Respect Mediation? Love It? Prove It, Shove It, Move It: Mix Things Up, Break the Patterns

Neuroscience and Conflict Resolution Blog by Stephanie West Allen

If someone were to take video tapes (with no audio) of your mediations, how different would one look from the other? We all tend to get into both personal and professional patterns. For example, we typically drive to errands on the same routes over time. Do we drive the same routes in mediations?

This study linked to below, another one about how our bodies may affect our cognition, reminds us that much more is going on in any session than we might guess. To circumvent or drive through roadblocks to resolution, change the routes, change the roads, change the physical positions and environment.

In previous posts, I have suggested ways to get out of ruts and to see the conflict resolution process with fresh eyes, artistic eyes, sometimes even jester eyes. Those new eyes are the hallmark of a 21st-century mediator. Re-spect means look again. Re-spect your methods of mediation.

Try this: Think of a mediation as a game of jacks; they never fall the same way and you and the parties can use lots of ways to pick them up. Positions in the circle around the game can and probably should change; the bodies of the players are just as important as the minds.

And don’t forget to change the ball to get a new bounce!

Here’s that reminder of how much is going on in the room beyond what’s in our skulls: "Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller: Posture-Modulated Estimation" (Psychological Science). Abstract:

In two experiments, we investigated whether body posture influences people’s estimation of quantities. According to the mental-number-line theory, people mentally represent numbers along a line with smaller numbers on the left and larger numbers on the right. We hypothesized that surreptitiously making people lean to the right or to the left would affect their quantitative estimates. Participants answered estimation questions while standing on a Wii Balance Board. Posture was manipulated within subjects so that participants answered some questions while they leaned slightly to the left, some questions while they leaned slightly to the right, and some questions while they stood upright. Crucially, participants were not aware of this manipulation. Estimates were significantly smaller when participants leaned to the left than when they leaned to the right.

From the Discussion:

Body posture influences quantitative estimates. We predicted that people would make smaller estimates while leaning slightly to the left than they would while leaning slightly to the right, and this prediction was borne out by our results. Remarkably, our manipulations of posture influenced participants’ estimations even though participants were unaware of their true posture. According to the mental-number-line theory, people mentally represent numbers on a line with smaller numbers on the left side and larger numbers on the right side (Restle, 1970). Presumably, making an estimation involves retrieving instances from memory, and such instances function as anchors (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). Leaning to the left should therefore make smaller numbers more accessible than larger numbers, and leaning to the right should make larger numbers more accessible than smaller numbers.

Note: Click for a podcast about this research: "Mind-Body Mindblower: Posture Affects Estimates" (Scientific American).


Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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