Embodied Cognition

To what extent is human cognition embodied?

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Basic Theory

  • Opposition to Fodor's theory of modularity. 
  • Many different proposed hypotheses of embodied cognition:

1) Cognition is for action (Glenberg, 1997)

2) The body contributes to thought (Barsalou, 1999)

3) The environment is part of the cognitive system (Wilson, 2002

4) Cognition is situated (Wilson, 2002)

5) Offline cognition is body based (Wilson, 2002)

  • Theories of embodied cogniion explain thought and language in terms of action and perception. 
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Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA)

  • Built on symbol-symbol relations. 
  • In theory: how and where words occur tell us how similar they are in meaning. 
  • LSA struggles with afforded sentence tasks but humans find them trivially easy. 

e.g. As a substitute for her pillow she filled up an old sweater with leaves. 

  • We know as humans that this is possible but LSA struggles - 'leaves' and 'sweater' not usually found together. 
  • Harnad (1990) Try to navigate Beijing with chinese-only dictionary - the symbol to symbol mapping doesn't provide any actual knowlede - know nothing about chinese language. 
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Barsalou (1999)

Main theory:

  • Perceptual and conceptual systems heavily overlap. 
  • Semantic memory = episodic memory
  • Accessing knowledge requires reactivating sensorimotor traces from experience. 

e.g. Thinking of a chair involves mentally representing the perceptual symbols for chair

- size, shape, material, what it's like to sit on etc. 

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Barsalou (2005) - Abstract Concepts

  • Abstract concepts can't be explained by modality-specific systems. 
  • Examples of abstract concepts are truth and freedom.
  • Also can't be explained by theories using amodal symbols. 
  • Conceptual system may store memories about situational perceptions then simulates these memories to represent concepts. 
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Glenberg (1997)

By thinking of representations as meaningless symbols we haven't considered that they may have a similar structure to the objects being represented. 

  • Perceptual systems have evolved to facilitate our interactions with the three-dimensional world. 
  • The world must therefore be conceptualized (in part) as patterns of bodily interactions. 
  • The meaning of an object, event or sentence is what the person can do with it. 
  • Embodied representations don't need to be mapped onto the world as they are already grounded (arise from the world itself) - this solves the symbol grounding problem. 
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Lakoff (1987)

3 arguments against symbol grounding - support for embodied cognition. 

1)   Theory requires that categories be Aristotelian (have sharp boundaries) - research has                   shown that categories of the mind are not such. 

2)   Symbols are only meaningful when mapped onto the world - Putnam (1980) demonstrated it is       impossible to find one correct way of mapping. 

3)   People frequently use metaphorical language - proposed that this reflects the way people             think. - Don't necessarily use concrete language/concepts which are easily mapped or                 represented as symbols. 

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Evidence FOR Embodied Cognition

1) Concurrent tasks  

  • Strack (1988) Paradigm - pencil between teeth or lips - rate how funny cartoon is. 
  • Shows that changing the body (and hence emotion) affects humour judgements.
  • Bargh (1996) - sort words into sentences including words related to elderly - measure walking speed.  

2) Brain Imaging.

  • Hawk et al (2004) - fMRI - move body parts then read action verbs. - brain areas for thinking about movement corresponded with areas for actual movement. 
  • Beilock et al (2008) - hockey players and novices. - action expertise = more premotor acivation and better comprehension. 

3) Clinical Populations.

  • Bak et al (2001) - P's with MND - showed verb specific impairment. 
  • Catelli et al (2007) - P's with parkinsons had difficulty with action verbs. 
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Evidence FOR Embodied Cognition (Continued)

4) Developmental Data

  •  Angrave & Glenberg (2007) - Action learning predicts subsequent verb learning. 

5) Educational Data

  •  Boncoddo et al (2010) - Action learning predicts abstract learning in 4 year olds. - gears and force tracing task. 
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Arguments AGAINST Embodied Cognition

  • Mahon & Caramazza (2008) - embodied cognition may not be able to explain abstract concepts. - Most evidence for EC is based on concrete language/concepts. 
  • Current available evidence can't resolve issue of how concepts are represented in the brain. 
  • We have different bodies so seems logical to assume we will experience the world in different ways (e.g. child compared to elderly person). 
  • Mapping problem not solved: issue of mapping words onto embodied representations so can talk about what we are perceiving/thinking. 
  • Some things are meaningful even when no possibility for bodily interaction (e.g. beautiful sunset). 
  • The field has yet to settle on a shared account of what embodiment is. 
  • Little discussion about the actual meaning of embodied cognition. 
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Citation List

  • 1) Glenberg (1997) - cognition is for action 
  • 2) Barsalou (1999)  - the body contributes to thought
  • 3) Wilson (2002) - cognition situated, environment part of cognitive system, cognition    body based. 
  • 4) Glenberg (2000) - LSA struggles with afforded sentences. 
  • 5) Harnad (1990) - Navigating Beijing with chinese-only dictionary. 
  • 6) Barsalou (2005) - abstract concepts. 
  • 7) Glenberg (1997) - what is memory for?
  • 8) Lakoff (1987) - arguments against symbols. 
  • 9) Strack et al (1988)  - strack paradigm (concurrent tasks)
  • 10) Bargh (1996)  - word task, elderly (concurrent tasks)
  • 11) Hawk et al (2004)  - fMRI and action words (brain imaging)
  • 12) Beilock et al (2008)- fMRI hockey task (brain imaging)
  • 13) Bak et al (2001)  -motor neurone disease (clinical)
  • 14) Catelli et al (2007)  - parkinsons disease (clinical)
  • 15) Angrave & Glenberg (2007) - action & verb learning (developmental)
  • 16) Boncoddo et al (2010) - action learning & abstract learning (educational)
  • 17) Mahon & Caramazza (2008) - EC can't explain abstract concepts. 
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