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Global research discovers hand placement critical to learning and concentration

CMU and Taipei Medical University researchers uncover new factors in learning, perception and attention

Contact: Dan Digmann


​Century-old beliefs have led most of us to think that caffeine or taking a break from information and returning to it later are the best or only strategies to improve a person's focus, learning, or how they view the world and objects around them. New research, however, sheds light on how hand placement also is part of the equation.

Christopher Davoli, assistant professor of psychology at Central Michigan University, and Philip Tseng, an associate professor at Taipei Medical University, coordinated the global research that has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology​​ and as an e-book. The researchers found how we view and perceive objects around us, remember information, focus our attention or shift attention from one topic to the next can be traced directly to the placement of our hands.​

The findings have practical implications for a broad range of environments and situations, including workplace efficiency, education, attention deficit interventions, building design and consumer product development.

"The key is identifying your end goal. If your goal is to find a creative solution or understand complex information, there is likely a posture and hand placement to match any need or situation," he said.

More information is being driven into our hands than ever before – from e-books to mobile devices – to improve efficiency and learning in an increasingly fast-paced world. Having information quite literally at our fingertips may not always be beneficial to effective learning, concentration and our ability to be flexible in our thought processes.

"Reading a story on a tablet device may make a person more likely to concentrate and retain details, but less likely to think about the bigger picture or message in what they are reading. A story read on a computer screen further from a person's hands will be processed differently, and it will be easier to think bigger; however, the mind also may be more likely to wander to other topics or objects," Davoli said.

Davoli said the research is a significant stride forward in understanding the use of hands-on learning, but more work is needed to solidify specific solutions for consumer products, schools, workplaces and homes.

"Now that this research exists, we can begin to apply it to real world situations to improve the way we create products, communicate information and improve productivity," Davoli said.

Davoli and Tseng coordinated experts from around the world to gather research, review results, and analyze the common effects of body posture and hand placement on a person's attention and cognition. In total, the call for research generated 12 peer-reviewed articles by 34 experts spanning 23 institutions in countries including Germany, England, China and Canada. The studies allowed researchers to observe the effects of hand placement and posture on subjects in a variety of laboratory settings that mimicked real-world scenarios, including cutting food, using a mobile device and working with another person to complete a puzzle. 


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