Sacred meaning is regularly attributed to body movements in a variety of religious and spiritual settings, but studies have yet to disentangle the effects of the sacred meaning attributed to body movements from the effects of body movements themselves.
Participants (n = 422) were randomly assigned to draw six lines that were fluid or non–fluid (as a replication attempt) and to ascribe sacred or non–sacred meaning to the arm movements (as an extension of prior research). The effects of movement fluidity, movement sacredness, and their interaction were examined on affective (positive emotions, self–transcendent positive emotions, affective response to a video about the impact of racism on health) and cognitive (creativity, race conceptions) outcomes.
The present study did not replicate previous findings that fluid movement leads to creativity and flexible race conceptions. Instead, the present study found that attributing sacred meaning to arm movements led to greater experiences of positive and self–transcendent positive emotions (and lower negative emotions) and protected against the deleterious effects of non–fluid movement on positive emotions (in addition to protecting against increases in negative emotions).
We highlight the importance of accounting for the meaning attributed to body movements and suggest embodiment may operate through more affective than cognitive processes. Future research should further investigate the amplifying and buffering effects of sacred meaning attributed to embodied actions within religious and spiritual