Frontlines

Fidget goes to college: wiggle while you work

Marsha Boulton February 19 1979
Frontlines

Fidget goes to college: wiggle while you work

Marsha Boulton February 19 1979

Fidget goes to college: wiggle while you work

Wagging makes the brain work better.” That’s what Lawrence Morehouse, a University of California physiologist concluded after spending 40 years observing the joy of squirming. University students who fidget during exams, Morehouse says, earn better grades than their more placid peers. His explanation is that “toe-tapping, jiggling, wriggling and weight-shifting supply fuel to the brain by increasing blood circulation,” and this minimal activity keeps students alert during the § last lap of an exam. “Students who just sit « have a tendency to do badly, even stupidly, 3'

on the final few exam questions,” says Morehouse, an idea that could incite a rash of ambitious writhing in examination rooms.

It does not stand to reason, however, that large-scale fidgeting means escalating brilliance; frenzied rocking or foot-stomping will inevitably interfere with a student’s ability to put pen to paper. “It isn’t necessary to jiggle the whole leg, just curling the toes is enough,” says Morehouse, citing an experiment in which he observed that people who faint from prolonged standing can revive and refresh themselves by flexing their toes. Conversely, sitting can cause a lazy brain, and Morehouse counsels executives away from soft “status chairs,” which he describes as "static chairs.”

Unfortunately, Morehouse says that our culture has never been one to accept the

natural tendency of the body to wiggle. He abhors time-and-motion studies that advocate a minimum of movement, and says they are more likely to encourage errors than efficiency. He is also critical of North American parenting. “We tell children to sit still and be quiet, when in fact we should be encouraging all manner of squirming, wriggling and stretching, even yawning. A good physiological child wiggles a lot."

At 65, Morehouse practises what he preaches. He keeps his office phone on a file cabinet away from his desk so that he has to move when it rings; reference books are always more than an arm’s length away, and work never accumulates within his grasp. “I like to wiggle all the time,” says the shimmying sexagenarian, “and when I wiggle, I wiggle everything."

Marsha Boulton