I managed to secure a ticket to a public lecture by The Yarn Harlot (aka Stephanie Pearl-McPhee) presented by KnitSocial. Wednesday night, after a particularly stress-induced day, with some much-needed frozen yogurt, I met up with some friends at the Vancouver Public Library downtown for the talk. Stephanie is a self-identified ‘knitting humourist’ with very little competition in her niche market, so it made for an entertaining and informative talk.
This Is Your Brain on Knitting: In this funny and interesting lecture, we’ll take a look at what science can tell us about the way knitting has an impact on your brain and body – and how it’s transforming you, whether you know it or not. Using research and years of experience with knitters, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee talks about why you knit, why you can’t stop if you do, and why you should start if you don’t.
Stephanie started with “the relaxation response” as coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, which I’m pretty sure I don’t experience. As I was told after swearing and throwing my knitting on the floor, “for someone who likes knitting, you sure do yell at it a lot”. However, Stephanie built on this idea and explored other research regarding what chemicals and hormones our bodies released when we were knitting such as serotonin and dopamine.
When doing this research, Stephanie found the phrase ‘knitting’ was rarely used, and only to describe tasks that may elicit such responses. More commonly she found it referred to as a ‘repetitive visual spacial task (eg. knitting)’ in academia. She found several studies about these repetitive visual spacial tasks, one which piqued my interest around communication. I am studying communication and this study found that because the brain is focusing on (literally) the task at hand, it isn’t as judgmental and has lower standards/barriers.
The most interesting thing I thought was that these repetitive visual spacial tasks (which also included running, folding origami, etc.) puts our brain into the state of Theta. Theta is also that state between falling asleep and waking up when we seem to have all of our best ideas. But really Theta is just non-judgmental, more observant, objective. But states of Theta have been proven to increase creativity, health, lower stress/anxiety, and increase objectivity in difficult situations.
There are also parallels between video game ‘addiction’ and knitting. In several of my courses we’ve recently been studying video games and how producers decide on what will be profitable. So often game developers are just recreating existing games that fit the mould of ‘successful’. But studies have been done that explain why video games are addictive, relating to people’s psychological needs, in attempt to pinpoint what elements are required to create a successful game. Stephanie found parallels between this research and knitting, including “progress bars”, “rewards”, “rapid frequent clear feedback”, “element(s) of uncertainty”, and “engagement”. We’ve been studying video games and the creative industries and new media for approximately two weeks (different classes) and I cannot believe I didn’t make this connection. These types of studies about addictive behaviour have so many more applications than just new media, video game play, and the computer industry. Some people have addictive personalities, where others may just find some elements entertaining to the point of apparent ‘addiction’.
Of course Stephanie also explored the long- and short-term benefits of knitting on your overall health, memory, brain power, and physical fitness. Some of these results were typically expected, but the quiet “oOOooh”s of understanding that rippled through the crowd of 120 attendees was very amusing. I was a little hesitant before attending the lecture, and wasn’t quite sure why I decided to buy a ticket, but I am really glad I did. Even though I’m studying Communication, this field tends to bleed over into others such as psychology, health, biology, and other mental health fields, so exploring Knitting and how it also bleeds into these fields was interesting. Also, the Harlot is quite a laugh in-person.
P.S. Stephanie took a photo of the crowd. I think I can see myself on the far right side of the photo, right on the edge. But it’s small because she took the photo with her iPhone. The seats were placed in direct rows instead of staggered so I could barely see her at the front of the room (even though we were about halfway back).
P.P.S. Stephanie also went to Dressew! It’s unfortunate she didn’t have more time to go to a proper LYS, but in her blog post about it, I was shocked she didn’t enjoy it more. I love Dressew, but then I also sew and do other crafts/costume-making besides knitting.