SAN FRANCISCO — The key to acing that tricky math test may simply come down to the way you sit. A recent study finds that maintaining a healthy posture and not slouching while completing an arithmetic test helps students perform better on the assignment.
“For people who are anxious about math, posture makes a giant difference,” says research leader Erik Peper, a professor of health education at San Francisco State University, in a release. “The slumped-over position shuts them down and their brains do not work as well. They cannot think as clearly.”
Researchers recruited 125 students at the university to solve a math problem — subtract 7 from 843 sequentially for 15 seconds — while slumped over in their desks or sitting up straight with their shoulders back and relaxed. Fifty-six percent of the students said they found it easier to complete the math task when they sat up straight.
The students completed an anonymous questionnaire before the test, asking them to rate their anxiety levels when taking exams and performing math tasks. The questionnaire also asked the students to describe any physical symptoms of stress experienced when taking tests.
While most students who reported no math anxiety said sitting up straight didn’t help them perform the task, most said that performing the math task while slouching made it more difficult.
The researchers say that a slumped-over position is a defensive posture, triggering negative memories in the brain and body. Good posture can help your performance in many areas, not just math. Peper says that athletes, public speakers, and musicians can all benefit from better posture. “It’s about using an empowered position to optimize your focus,” he adds.
The study was published in the journal NeuroRegulation.