Can your lack of posture be the reason you are not learning and remembering efficiently? This question has been a point of debate for a while and we still have not come up with a clear answer. If it were up to teachers, the answer would probably be yes, pointing to slouching as a clear sign of student disinterest. And they might not be very wrong.

Learning style researcher Dunn and Dunn has suggested that being “uncomfortable” engages the left side of the brain which is active in when we take in new information. On the other hand, a relaxed posture seems to engage the right side of the brain, the creative side. For Dunn and Dunn, being comfortable in your bed or sofa while studying is not exactly the best idea if your goal is memory retention.

But this line of evidence does not seem very convincing on its own. There are many external factors that you are exposed to as you are studying, including your posture. It is likely that replicating the exact same external environment as you recall a memory as when you formed and consolidated the memory, can significantly improve your access to and retention of your memories. Therefore, it is possible that posture is in some way affecting our ability to recall specific types of memories. But how so?

The suggestion seems to be that when you remember something you are also reminded of the “state” of learning, a concept that not only includes posture but also emotions and surrounding environment. Bad posture can therefore be a hindrance to effective learning merely because we later interpret it as an “incongruent” positioning of the body.

The question then seems to be that, if posture is actually affecting the way we learn, is it really such a detrimental factor? Opponents of posture as a relevant factor in learning might argue that learning is more about cognitive appraisal rather than specific context. By cognitive appraisal, we mean our subjective interpretation of a situation. Therefore, as long as we are in the study “zone,” external factors are not really contributing to learning efficiency. For example, if this is true, learning a language efficiently might be easier if we are confident about we are learning and not by the way we were sitting at Spanish class a few days ago.

The reality probably lies somewhere in between these two ideas of state-dependent and cognitive learning and memory. Our ability to remember anything must in some way be connected with both bodily and mental states at the time of learning. Getting the facts straight might therefore not be entirely dependent on your posture, but it surely would not hurt to straighten up when you really want to learn something. You’ll never know the difference until you do it for yourself!

Update: We have edited this post to remove a reference to an experiment that supposedly confirmed the relationship between posture and learning.  This reference had originated from a secondary source that turned out not to be accurate.  We strive to write about learning & memory improvement techniques that are grounded in proven cognitive science, and we apologize to anyone who was affected by the misinformation.