Get In and Drive

I recently wrote about the balanced diet of movement and how important the movement repertoire can be. But I want to be clear that just having options isn’t enough. After all, just having a car and map doesn’t get you to the grocery store. You’ve got to get in and drive.

If a broad movement repertoire were all you needed then gymnasts, dancers and contortionists would all be pain free. But, alas, they hurt like the rest of us.

Let’s try an experiment . Place a cup upside down on the table in front of you. Now, turn it upright with one hand. Which way did you grab it? Did you grab it with your thumb pointing down or up? Most people will grab it with the thumb down so that they end up with the thumb up. You reached in a way so that you would end up in the most comfortable position versus starting out that way.

This is demonstrates the end state comfort effect.

subjects usually grabbed objects to be moved from one location to another in a way that afforded a comfortable final posture rather than a comfortable initial posture (the end-state comfort effect)

All things being equal, it appears that we tend to automatically move in ways to end up in a comfortable position.

An automatic mechanism for comfort has some interesting implications for therapy. Why is getting comfortable often so hard if it is supposed to happen automatically?

Now let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s say that your neck and shoulder were hurting and all you had to do to find relief was to stick your arm straight up in the air. Easy enough, right? Well, you are also sitting front row in a class. Not only that, but the class is filled with people that may hire you next week for a job you really want. Would you stick your arm straight up in the air to make your shoulder feel better? Or, would you be too worried about looking goofy?

Fear, expectation, and social taboo all could easily get in the way of letting this mechanism take place. This is the power of context. Competing desires can be derailing. Instead of getting comfortable we may act on the desire to not look silly. We may act on an expectation, like “sit up straight” or “don’t fidget.” In short, it is quite easy to get in our own way especially with a culture obsessed with appearance like ours.

An expanded repertoire might be enough when all that is holding you back is tendency, but otherwise I can’t think that it’s enough. Similarly, I’ve written that novelty is not enough. Both need a context or circumstance that is conducive to comfort.

Quote taken from:

Rosenbaum D.A., Van Heugten C.M., Caldwell G.E.

From cognition to biomechanics and back: The end-state comfort effect and the middle-is-faster effect

(1996) Acta Psychologica, 94 (1), pp. 59-85.


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