How the tongue ties to focus

While senior Gavin Schooley looked through photos of himself playing basketball, he noticed something. His tongue was sticking out in some photos.

“There are a couple of pictures where I just happen to [stick my tongue out], and I don’t really know I’m doing it,” Schooley said.

According to Alina Rodriguez, professor of developmental psychology at Imperial College London, playing basketball requires a lot of precision, and there is a lot of unconscious activity in the brain.

When doing a task that requires such precision, the motor actions of the hands and the mouth become tied together, Rodriguez said.

The stimuli in the tongue and the nerves in the brain are connected to the hands.

When put into an evolutionary perspective, this connection explains why humans talk and gesture instead of just using hand motions to communicate, Rodriguez said.

This evolutionary connection between the hands and the mouth causes the mouth or tongue to unconsciously move when doing an activity that requires precision with hands, Rodriguez said.

During school, Schooley sometimes unintentionally sticks his tongue out when thinking.

Consciously sticking the tongue out cannot be done to improve concentration, Rodriguez said.

Some people may unintentionally stick out their tongue when trying to concentrate, which can allow them to focus more on the activity at hand, Rodriguez said.

If someone is doing something that requires concentration, like reading, people may move their mouth unconsciously, making it more likely for them to stay on task, Rodriguez said.

With other cognitive actions involving both concentration and the hand, like applying mascara, the mouth may unconsciously move because more energy is used to concentrate than to keep the mouth shut.

Unintentionally sticking out his tongue helps him focus, Schooley said.

“[Sticking your tongue out] is something to do, like fidgeting, that just calms you,” Schooley said.