Professor James Brockmole and postdoctoral fellow Christopher Davoli of the University of Notre Dame said people holding objects they're learning about process detail and notice differences among objects more effectively. In contrast, keeping hands away from the objects helps people notice similarities and consistencies among those things, the researchers found.
Study participants were asked to analyze a set of complex geometric patterns in a series of images -- half did so while holding their hands alongside the images, while the other half held their hands in their laps.
The study, scheduled to be published in Memory and Cognition, showed it was harder for people to recognize the commonalities among identical but differently colored patterns if they held them in their hands, suggesting that information near the hands is processed at a deeper level of detail.
This orientation to detail, in turn, hampers people's ability to consider the similarities that exist among slightly different objects, the study said.
"Near the body, and especially near the hands, attention to detail is crucial because subtle differences among objects can differentiate the harmful from the benign," Brockmole said in a statement. "We needed to recognize which berries were poisonous and which were not; what snakes will bite and which will not. On the other hand, people can think about objects that are farther away from the body in more categorical terms since details are less important."
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