As a lifelong sloucher, I'm always on the hunt for pointers to improve my posture. I even bought a Lumo Lift, a posture tracker that gently buzzes when you slouch. I ditched it because I found the constant buzzing annoying. (Yes, ironic.)
But now, I have hope that my slouchy tendencies may actually be a good thing for my productivity and problem solving skills. Research suggests that relaxing your body posture and core muscles may help you concentrate better and improve your performance during difficult tasks.
A recent study found that kids slouched more when they performed difficult math problems, but did just as well as on easy math problems. "That may mean, the researchers speculate, that slouching frees up some cognitive power that would otherwise be tied up in sitting up straight," reported the Scientific American, "allowing them to do better on tough problems than they might have otherwise."
In other words, the simple task of remembering to sit up straight (or not so simple, from an expert sloucher's perspective) could take up valuable brainpower -- and that brainpower might be better spent deep in thought in the task at hand.
How researchers concluded slouching might not be so terrible
The study involved 28 Japanese fourth graders. They sat on backless stools and were fitted with electrodes that tracked activity in their lower back and spine muscles. The students were first asked to sit up straight. Half the group then sat quietly for two minutes. The other half had to answer math questions out loud. The math questions started easy, then got harder and harder. The hardest questions were above their grade level. As the questions became more difficult, the students slouched more. Researchers concluded that the relaxed postures may have helped student concentrate better on the challenging problems.
The researchers published their findings in the Occupational Therapy International journal. "Attention to maintain a seated posture may be reduced when children perform cognitive tasks," they concluded. "Therefore, it may be better to allow children to alter their posture especially when they are performing difficult tasks."
The authors reference earlier research that found requiring children to sit up straight could affect their performance in cognitive tasks. Kids at school are often asked to sit up straight and concentrate at the same time. "It may be more difficult for children to sit upright when they also have to deal with some cognitive tasks," the researchers wrote.
Slouchers vs. perfect posturers: Who's better?
Does this mean slouching is "good" for you? Not really. That's reading too much into the results.
The study focused on a specific type of problem solving (math) and an even more specific group of test subjects (just a couple dozen children.) The results doesn't read into how less-than-perfect posture may affect an adult's physical or mental health, confidence, stress levels and several other factors.
Even so, there's a nugget of hope for slouchers everywhere. When it's time tackle a challenging task or solve a difficult problem, it might be perfectly fine to slouch as you concentrate.
But when you share your solutions or ideas with a larger group, it's probably better to project confidence and stand up straight.