By XiaoZhi Lim
BU News Service
“Take your pen, do this.” Nicole Noll said as she reached into her backpack for a pen, and placed it horizontally between her teeth. “Don’t let your lips touch it.”
I did as she demonstrated. Noll and I were in the Harvard Science Center, sitting in the first-floor hallway. As we held our pens in our teeth, two men passed by and gave us puzzled looks.
“OK. Now,” Noll took her pen out and stuck one end in her mouth. I followed, letting my lips wrap around and grip my pen.
“So when you hold it like this,” Noll placed her pen horizontally in between her teeth again, “what are you doing, essentially?”
“You, you’re almost like smiling,” I ventured.
“You’re almost like smiling, right!” Noll went on to explain how people, who were asked to rate how funny a set of cartoons was, gave higher ratings when they held a pen in their teeth and lower ratings when they held a pen in their lips – more like a pout – in a 1988 study. “What this research says is, I can change what I’m doing with my body and it will influence my internal feelings.”
Noll, a post-doctoral fellow in social psychology at Harvard University, researches such “embodied emotion” with a specific interest in gender-linked behavior. “One of the very common findings in this type of research is that men take up more space,” said Noll. On the other hand, women tend to have more “closed posture,” which is generally associated with submission and a lack of confidence. In 2011, while trying to start a business, Noll observed that some of her research findings in gender-linked behavior affected women’s work skills, even in something like coding for the web. To address that, Noll co-founded a company, Web Start Women, that provides coding classes specifically for women.
Continue reading at Boston University News Service. Originally published on Jan 6, 2014.