Whether to sit or stand while working has become a hot-list health topic the last few years. The argument takes many forms, including the popular trope that “sitting is the new smoking.”
Without going that far, however, there’s still reasonable ground to cover in this discussion, and a new study adds a finding with solid science on its side: standing may very well make you a better thinker.
Two groups of participants were asked to complete a psychological test known as the Stroop test while either sitting or standing.
The Stroop effect describes the lag our brains experience when making sense of contradictory stimuli.
When shown printed names of colors, with each name corresponding to the color to which it refers, participants are usually able to state the name of each color without delay.
If, however, the names are different than the colors, it takes a little longer to identify the colors.
That small time difference says volumes about brain processing speed and how we direct our attention.
The Stroop test is one of the most reliable gauges of processing ability, with considerable research backing it up.
The study asked whether standing enables a quicker response to the Stroop test than sitting.
To find out, researchers measured the processing time between two groups of sitting volunteers and two groups of standing volunteers. Standing won by a meaningful hair.
The results showed Stroop test differences of 120 milliseconds while sitting, and a difference of 100 milliseconds while standing.
Those differences sound tiny, but when you consider how many things your brain has to decipher throughout the day, that tiny effect is multiplied many times over.
From little things big things grow – including lags in how your brain engages your work hour to hour.
Why this is true may come down to the reason why non-standers don’t embrace standing to begin with: it’s harder to do.
Standing requires more effort, not just because it feels more physically demanding, but also because standing causes the brain to manage more variables.
Balancing your body weight, controlling slight muscle contractions—all of those little things amount to an additional level of cognitive stress.
Not overwhelming stress, but a manageable, ongoing hum of stress.
And previous research has shown that a mild dose of stress increases cognitive performance.
Think of it as the stress sweet spot—too much stress overwhelms performance, too little causes complacency.
This study shows that standing introduces just enough stress to juice up our processing power. Most importantly, a little additional stress sharpens attention, which enables greater focus on whatever task is at hand.
So while the big claims for standing over sitting may or may not be overblown, it seems there’s an almost imperceptible difference that could make standing the better choice if getting an edge in brain processing is important to you.
Add this result to prior research showing that a reasonable mixture of sitting and standing is probably the best formula for overall health, and you have one more reason to stand for at least part of your day.