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Why adversity feels like a heavy burden

Published Feb 7, 2014

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London - Faced with adversity, many feel like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Now, perhaps, we know why. Research shows that when we feel powerless, we think objects are much heavier than they are.

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Scientists at Cambridge University said this might be the brain’s way of exercising caution when life seems to be spinning out of our control.

In one experiment, volunteers’ sense of power was measured by asking them questions such as whether they thought people listened to their views.

The men and women then lifted boxes of books and estimated their weight. Finally, they answered questions about their mood.

Mood and gender did not affect the results, but sense of power did.

The less powerful someone felt, the more they thought the boxes weighed, the Journal of Experimental Psychology reports. Volunteers who felt powerless estimated the boxes to be around 20 percent heavier than those who felt in control.

Another test showed it is the feeling of powerlessness that makes things seem heavy, rather than a sense of power giving a perception of lightness.

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It is thought that in tough times, we take steps to conserve vital resources. Seeing things as heavier than they are could deter us from using up precious energy.

Lead researcher Eun Hee Lee said: “Not much was known about how power influences perceptual experiences in everyday life.

“This research demonstrates that people’s social role, as indicated by a sense of social power, or lack thereof, can change the way they see the physical environment.” - Daily Mail

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