Word Up! Directed motor action improves word learning.


Can simple motor actions help people expand their vocabulary? Here we show that word learning depends on where students place their flash cards after studying them. In Experiment 1, participants learned the definitions of "alien words" with positive or negative emotional valence. After studying each card, they placed it in one of two boxes (top or bottom), according to its valence. Participants who were instructed to place positive cards in the top box, consistent with Good is Up metaphors, scored about 10% better on a vocabulary test than those who placed them in the bottom box. Participants who placed all cards on the desktop scored in between the good-is-up and good-is-down groups. Experiments 2 and 3 extended this technique to words with no strong emotional valence. Experiment 4 showed that simply thinking or saying “up/down” was ineffective: directed motor action is critical to the Word-Up effect.

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