Tag Archives: Vection

Does fascinating advice from a super-polyglot utilize a psychological effect unknown to science?

Tell me about your key technique for learning a new language, and how it works

I call it shadowing. I shadow the audio of the target language by listening to it through earphones and speaking along with it as fast as I possibly can. I’ve found the best way to do this is while walking outdoors as swiftly as possible, maintaining a perfectly upright posture and speaking loudly. [and he goes on to further discuss]

Hooper, Rowan You had me at halla. New Scientist. Issue 3110 January 28 2017 p.42-43.


This is advice from Alexander Arguelles, who can speak around 50 languages, so it is definitely advice to take seriously. The part of the advice that interests me is the walking fast with an upright posture. This implies that bodily perceptions or perceptions of the position/location of the body in space, and movement, are important in boosting learning. This part of the advice fits in nicely with a phenomenon that I’ve described in at least one previous post in this blog, years ago, in which vection or actual physical bodily movement through space (in the form of walking outdoors while looking around) seems to evoke a cascade of thought, or somehow add fluency or speed to the normal train of thought (which could be described as the stream of consciousness or daydreaming). This effect is important to me (a super-recognizer synaesthete in a family that seems to have a gene for ease of learning languages and spelling) because I’ve found that when walking or driving a vehicle I get useful and creative and novel ideas that don’t happen when I’m not doing such activities. I also find that taking a shower (indoors!) has a similar effect, and I think the link to the outdoor activities is that parts of the brain that deal with bodily movement and visual-spatial perception are activated. I’ve observed that outdoor visual perception of movement through space or actual movement seem to promote thought or creativity, while it appears that Mr Arguelles has observed that this kind of experience promotes learning. As I’m a synaesthete who is interested in synaesthesia (specifically types involving visual memory and links between visual memory and conceptual thinking) I’ve suggested that this is actually a type of synaesthesia – experiences as one type of stimuli (visual-spatial) triggering or promoting, inside the brain, experiences of a very different type (language learning, combining discrete abstract concepts in thought). I don’t adhere to the idea that there’s a very sharp demarcation between synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes, but nevertheless, I’d be very interested to know whether Mr Arguelles is a synaesthete. Certainly there’s lots of evidence linking synaesthesia with superior memory, which a super-learner such as Mr Arguelles must surely possess.

Is the effect that I’ve identified and described embodied cognition? Is it a type of synaesthesia, enjoyed only by a minority of the population? Is it both? Neither? Has it already been described and named in the scientific literature? I don’t know. Does it need a name of it’s own? Visual-spatial stimuli-boosted cognition?

Brain Games on SBS

This TV series is so much worth viewing if you are interested in psychology, including optical illusions, visual perception and many other interesting things. http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/506325059936/brain-games-power-of-persuasion

I can’t believe it’s not synaesthesia! – embodied cognition

Yes indeed, this is a fascinating article from New Scientist magazine. This is the article that made me feel incredulous the first time that I read it last year, that the word “synaesthesia” was not even once mentioned in it, because it seemed to be an article about a number of different types of synaesthesia. I could go into details about why I believe this, but I’d risk restating most of the text of this two-page article. Basically, this is an article about embodied cognition. It is clear to me that the researchers studying embodied cognition have a lot to gain from sharing ideas with synaesthesia researchers (and synaesthetes), and vice versa.

A study by Australian academic Tobias Loetscher that was published in the journal Current Biology and another study by Daniel Casasanto, an academic in the Netherlands, which was published in the journal Cognition are discussed in this article. The “metaphor theory” of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson is discussed. Much of this article seems to be very relevant to the idea proposed by some synaesthesia researchers that synaesthesia is the origin of metaphorical language. Wouldn’t synaesthesia or some very similar mental process be the link between study subjects’ emotional feelings of being socially isolated and their reported physical sensations of feeling physically colder?

Other parts of this article seem to be very relevant to, or a description of, number form synaesthesia and other mental mappings of concepts onto “spatial schema”. The study by Casasanto is about a psychological process that is very similar to the forward and backward vection that was the subject of the study in PLoS ONE that I discussed in a previous blog posting, in that it shows an influence on abstract thought from performing a physical task that focused the mind on one or other spatial directions. The vection study that I previously discussed was about backward and forward motion influencing abstract thought. The Casasanto study was about moving something upwards and moving something downwards influencing abstract thought.

Many of the more general conclusions in this article, based on the study findings, also seemed to be very relevant to my experiences of fine motor performances determining the content of my thoughts, often involving links with conceptual thinking, by a process that I believe is synaesthesia. “The results also led to a deeper question: does physical movement have the power to change not just the speed at which people talk, but also what they choose to talk – or even think – about?” A study by Casasanto found this to be true. “Isn’t that somewhat scary?” Casasanto asked. Yes, I think it is scary, but it is only by being aware of the irrational and arbitrary things that can influence cognition that we can ever hope to detect, control and transcend such influences.

Ananthaswamy, Anil Let your body do the thinking. New Scientist. Number 2753 March 27th 2010 p.8-9.

Two articles about embodied cognition from Miller-McCune:

Jacobs, Tom To feel good, reach for the sky. Miller-McCune. February 4th 2010. http://www.miller-mccune.com/health/to-feel-good-reach-for-the-sky-8445/

Hilo, Jessica Power poses really work. Miller-McCune. November 15th 2010. http://www.miller-mccune.com/culture-society/power-poses-really-work-25322/

Moving forward with PLoS ONE – further evidence of a connection between abstract thinking and visual processing of scenes

I’ve just discovered that a study that was published last year in a major peer-reviewed science journal appears to support a theory that I thought of a long time ago, and I have also discovered that an element of this phenomenon that I have observed has a proper scientific name; “vection”. I first learned of the concept of vection while reading an article by Roger Highfield in the February 19th 2011 edition of New Scientist magazine. I have already briefly mentioned the idea of mine in an earlier post in this blog. My theory is based on the observation that the moving scenery that I unavoidably see while I am driving a vehicle appears to free up my mind like some magical brand of mental lubricant, with the effect that novel and original ideas come to me at an extraordinary rate, and I see connections and possible connections between things that I don’t think I’d ever create or grasp while doing any other activity. My theory is that the moving scenery taken into my mind visually creates the subjective sensation of moving forward (forward vection), and the forward vection somehow brings about a change in the way my brain operates so that the existing abundance of connectivity in my synaesthete brain is opened up to an even greater degree. This opening up is not a free-for-all. It does not result in mental chaos with rampant synaesthesia such as an assault of noisy vision or brightly coloured sounds. This opening up specifically seems to involve conceptual and language-related thinking, thinking at a level of cognition that is more sophisticated and abstract than sensory stuff.

I love the choice of words for the title of the PLoS ONE paper: “The meandering mind”. Meandering is the perfect word to describe the way my mind behaves while I am driving, or travelling a passenger in a moving vehicle watching the scenery flowing past. It is a mind that is paradoxically free to wander but is also paying attention to the important task of driving safely. What did the study reported in this journal find? I quote from the abstract:

“Participants performed a mundane vigilance task, during which they were expected to daydream, while viewing a display that elicited an illusion of self-motion (i.e., vection). Afterwards, the contents of their mind wandering experiences were probed. The results revealed that the direction of apparent motion influenced the temporal focus of mental time travel. While backward vection prompted thinking about the past, forward vection triggered a preponderance of future-oriented thoughts.”

So, this study’s finding appear to support the proposition that “higher cognitive activity can have a sensory-motor grounding”. This idea is completely in accord with many of the psychological/neurological experiences that I have reported in this blog, including the connections in my mind between concepts and visual scenes that act like illustrations for those concepts, and which can in some instances evoke thinking about its specific associated concept when viewed, and also including the apparent influence that forward vection has on certain characteristics of my thinking. I am amazed by the number of conceptual connections that I have discovered among my synaesthesia-related experiences, and also connections between these experiences and ideas and studies described in recently published journal papers. Connections everywhere! Just like my brain!

If you have been reading by blog posts about the links in my mind between concepts and scenes, you will not be surprised that my mind has a particular scene that is evoked in my mind’s eye when I think about the concept of forward vection freeing up the mind. It is a scene of a winding road that I often drive along, as seen from a driver’s seat. This particular stretch of road has a lot of shrubbery along the side of the road, which enhances the subjective visual sensation of moving forward.

I’ve got to wonder whether the Prime Minister Julia Gillard might have read this paper in PLoS ONE before she thought up her election catch-phrase “moving forward”. Perhaps she was hoping to evoke the sensation of forward vection by repeating her slogan over and over, unconsciously directing voters to consider the future rather than past deeds. Maybe in the next election we might see political advertisements utilizing scenes of travelling forward or backward in a moving vehicle, depending on whether the party wishes to direct the attention of voters to the future or the past. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!


Highfield, Roger Days of wonder. New Scientist. February 19th 2011 Number 2800. p.34-41. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20928001.400-your-kitchen-sink-and-16-other-wonders-of-the-cosmos.html

Miles LK, Karpinska K, Lumsden J, Macrae CN The Meandering Mind: Vection and Mental Time Travel. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10825. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010825 http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0010825