Can Your Legs Do the Thinking?

Can Your Legs Do the Thinking?

The mystery behind fidgeting behaviour.

By Parag Jasani o
Posted on

(Continued from the previous post)

Can your legs do the thinking? No, but close enough. They can be used as placeholders for the thought process. 

In detail: As observed in my studies, making small, repetitive movements like shaking legs, biting nails, playing with fingers or personal objects like glasses, pens etc., which are known as fidgeting behaviours, are tools our brain uses to optimize its operations when engaged in deepthoughts.

Science does not have any clear explanation of why people get habituated to such behaviour. Experiments suggest that they may be connected to stress, tension, boredom, regulating attention, etc.

In this post, I will explain the mechanism underlying such behaviour.

As explained in the previous post, to optimize on energy consumption, our brain modifies the degree of attention based on its evaluation of how significant each ongoing interaction is and, based on the mechanism I call “Rescaling Mechanism”, allots and utilizes processing resources in proportion to their significance. The modification process takes very little time and thus, is not a problem in most of our daily interactions.

The problem arises only when we are involved in processing multiple chains of thoughts, like deliberating between multiple options or watching a movie.


In such cases, the time it takes to modify the degree of attention by 1) evaluating the significance of subsequent chain of thoughts and 2) proportionately allotting and utilizing the allotted amount of processing resources to it, a period I call “Evaluation Lag”, can eat up into the time the brain requires to attend to such subsequent chain of thoughts, which may result into missing out on processing important parts of such interactions.

E.g. when watching a movie, such evaluation lag may result into missing out on critical parts of the movie if they are presented one after the other in quick succession.

When watching the same movie for the second time, as the chains of thoughts are already known to us, there is no evaluation of significance, and thus, there is no evaluation lag, which is the reason why many of us find new aspects to the storyline of a movie when watching it for the second time.

As a remedy, the optimizing aspect of natural selection 1 has designed a mechanism I call “Fidgeting Mechanism”, which pre-allots processing resources to cancel out such evaluation lag.  

How fidgeting mechanism works: To cancel out the evaluation lag, system 1, which is non-conscious, initiates execution of a simple and repetitive physical process like shaking legs, biting nails, or other fidgeting behaviour and puts it on standby. As it is repetitive, it does not need conscious intervention. Doing so allots a certain amount of processing resources to such repetitive process.

Whenever system 2 (i.e. the self) evaluates the ongoing interaction to be significant and requires more resources to process it more comprehensively, it instructs system 1 to switch utilization of resources from such repetitive process to such significant interaction.

Switching from repetitive process to significant interaction saves time it would have otherwise taken to evaluate and allot processing resources required for its subsequent interaction and thus, is almost instantaneous.

In other words, the brain pre-allots and utilizes processing resources to a simple and repetitive task, which is governed by system 1, and switches such pre-allotted resources to process significant part(s) of the ongoing interaction when required; thereby saving on the evaluation lag, which is similar to the process of a clutch engaging the drivetrain of a car to a running engine.

Although it is not known to science, it is the core reason why people have habits like smoking tobacco, chewing gum, etc. Such activities are used to pre-allot processing resources by fidgeting mechanisms in their brains in their day-to-day interactions.

Switching resources to save on evaluation lag is also the reason why we eat popcorn when watching movies. As explained earlier, it helps us grasp the movie more comprehensively. It is like instant processing power on demand.

Although it is observed in those with disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), restless leg syndrome (RLS), social anxiety disorder (SAD), etc., fidgeting behaviour is not a sign of weakness, discomfort, restlessness, inattention, nervousness or impatience, as the current science believes it to be.

On the contrary, it is beneficial to cultivate the habit of fidgeting behaviour like, e.g. shaking legs, when engaged in deep thoughts. It will optimize your thought process. 

To summarize, fidgeting behaviour is designed to increase its efficiency when engaged in deep thoughts. It is used to optimize the processing of multiple chains of thoughts based on the optimizing aspect of natural selection 1.


1 Optimizing Aspect of Natural Selection


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Can Your Legs Do the Thinking?

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