In what may be the oddest psychology study I’ve ever read, Polish researchers have found that people are viewed as being more honest when their hand is over their heart, and the actual gesture itself may make someone behave more honestly.
The study, published in Nonverbal Behaviour, conduced a whole series of experiments around the gesture. In one, forty-eight undergrads had to rate the attractiveness of ten women whose pictures were selected from a European version of hotornot.com. Five were highly rated by site users, and five low-rated. Half the undergrads had to place their hand over their heart when they rated the women, the other half did not. Both groups rated the five attractive women similarly, but when it came to the unattractive ones, the hand-over-heart group was significantly harsher—and more honest—in their judgments.
In another test, subjects were shown pictures of women, some with their hand over their heart, others with it over their stomach. Subjects were asked to describe the women, and subjects used words related to honesty and integrity far more for the former group.
In yet another test, subjects were presented with a fake and boastful cover letter from a job-seeker, along with said seekers picture. If the woman pictured had her hands behind her back, she wasn’t perceived as being especially truthful. However, if the women pictured had her hand over her heart, subjects were more willing to believe her claims.
Finally, subjects took a series of math tests. When reporting their results, the subjects who placed their hands over their hearts were more truthful about their mistakes than subjects who did not.
So, what’s going on? Researchers think that gestures, and the cultural meanings behind them, can prime our behaviour in addition to the other way around. Granted, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of real-world application, but it’s worth noting that we aren’t as in control of our own minds as we tend to think.