The idea that thinking is done only in the head is a convenient illusion that doesn’t reflect how problems are solved in reality, said Gaelle Vallee-Tourangeau, Professor at Kingston University in Britain.
“When you write or draw, the action itself makes you think differently. In cognitive psychology you are trained to see the mind as a computer, but we’ve found that people don’t think that way in the real world.
“If you give them something to interact with they think in a different way,” Vallee-Tourangeau added.
In the study, the researchers explored how maths anxiety — a debilitating emotional reaction to mental arithmetic that can lead sufferers to avoid even simple tasks like splitting a restaurant bill — could potentially be managed through interactivity.
The study involved asking people to speak a word repeatedly while doing long sums at the same time.
The results showed that the mathematical ability of those asked to do the sums in their heads was more affected than those given number tokens that they could move with their hands.
“We found that for those adding the sums in their head, their maths anxiety score predicted the magnitude of errors made while speaking a word repeatedly. If they’re really maths anxious, the impact will be huge,” Vallée-Tourangeau explained.
“But in a high interactivity context — when they were moving number tokens — they behaved as if they were not anxious about numbers,” Vallée-Tourangeau said.
Understanding how we think and make decisions by interacting with the world around us could help businesses find new ways of improving productivity — and even improve people’s chances of getting a job, the researches noted.
The study was published in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.