It is known that our mood can affect how we walk - slump-shouldered if we are sad, bouncing along if we are happy. Researchers have now shown that it works the other way too.
Subjects who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style, the study found.
Canadian Institute for Advanced Research Senior Fellow Nikolaus Troje from Queen's University, a co-author on the paper, has shown in past research that depressed people move very differently than happy people.
"It is not surprising that our mood, the way we feel, affects how we walk, but we want to see whether the way we move also affects how we feel," Troje said.
He and his colleagues showed subjects a list of positive and negative words, such as "pretty," "afraid" and "anxious" and then asked them to walk on a treadmill while they measured their gait and posture.
A screen showed the subjects a gauge that moved left or right depending on whether their walking style was more depressed or happier. But the subjects didn't know what the gauge was measuring.
Researchers told some subjects to try and move the gauge left, while others were told to move it right.
"They would learn very quickly to walk the way we wanted them to walk," Troje said.
Afterward, the subjects had to write down as many words as they could remember from the earlier list of positive and negative words. Those who had been walking in a depressed style remembered many more negative words.
The difference in recall suggests that the depressed walking style actually created a more depressed mood.
The study builds on our understanding of how mood can affect memory. Clinically depressed patients are known to remember negative events, particularly those about themselves, much more than positive life events, Troje said.
"If you can break that self-perpetuating cycle, you might have a strong therapeutic tool to work with depressive patients," Troje said.
The study was published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.