How Physical Interaction Helps Performance in a Scrabble-like Task


An experiment tested the hypothesis that people sometimes take physical actions to help themselves solve problems. The task was to generate all possible words that could be formed from seven Scrabble letters. In one condition, participants could use their hands to manipulate the letters, and in another condition, they could not. Quantitative results show that more words were generated and lower frequency words were generated with physical manipulation than without. Qualitative results suggest that participants who could manipulate the letters tended to subdivide the task into smaller tasks (focusing on fewer letters at a time). Overall, our results can be explained in terms of an interactive search process in which external, physical activity effectively complements internal, cognitive activity, providing a reliable way to simplify search, explore the space of letter combinations, and identify potential words.

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