Grounded Cognition by Lawrence W. Barsalou

This is a useful overview.

It is important to note that the phrase “embodied cognition” is often used when referring to this collection of literatures. Problematically, however, “embodied cognition” produces the mistaken assumption that all researchers in this community believe that bodily states are necessary for cognition and that these researchers focus exclusively on bodily states in their investigations. Clearly, however, cognition often proceeds independently of the body, and many researchers address other forms of grounding. “Grounded cognition” reflects the assumption that cognition is typically grounded in multiple ways, including simulations, situated action, and, on occasion, bodily states.

This is interesting:

Recent embodiment theorists propose that knowledge acquired from introspection is central to the representation of abstract concepts (e.g., Barsalou 1999, Barsalou &Wiemer-Hastings 2005).

Barsalou (2007) proposed that humans’ powerful symbolic capabilities emerge from interactions between language and simulation.

Perception of space. Rather than being isotropic, the perception of space is shaped by the body, the body’s relation to the environment, and the body’s potential for action
(Franklin & Tversky 1990). Locating objects along the vertical axis of the body is easiest because of the body’s perceived asymmetry with respect to the ground. Locating objects along the front-back axis is next easiest because of the potential for action to the front. Locating objects along the left-right axis is most difficult because environmental and bodily cues are lacking. Longo & Laurenco (2007) found that people’s perception of near space extends further outward as their arm length increases, suggesting that individual differences in bodies produce individual differences in space perception.

and of course…

Abstract reasoning. Abstract forms of reasoning have not received as much attention as physical reasoning. Although Johnson- Laird’s (1983) mental model theory could be made compatible with grounded views, the mental models in his theory typically contain amodal symbols, not simulations. Much circumstantial evidence, however, suggests that simulation plays central roles in abstract reasoning. For example, philosophers of science observe frequently that scientific and mathematical discoveries typically arise from simulation (e.g., Barwise&Etchemendy 1991, Hadamard 1949, Nersessian 1999). Widespread content effects in reasoning similarly implicate simulations and situations in abstract reasoning (e.g., Cheng & Holyoak 1985).
Further evidence that abstract reasoning is grounded comes from research inspired by metaphor theory. When people reason about the abstract concept of time, they use space metaphorically to draw inferences (e.g., Boroditsky 2000, Boroditsky&Ramscar  2002). For example, when people hear, “Next Wednesday’s meeting has been moved forward two days,” their inference about whether the new meeting day is Monday or Friday depends on their current spatial trajectory. Similarly, how people conceptualize time reflects whether their language describes space horizontally or vertically (Boroditsky 2001).

How Does the Brain Represent Abstract Concepts?
Abstract concepts pose a classic challenge for grounded cognition. How can theories that focus on modal simulations explain concepts that do not appear modal? This concern often reflects the misperception described above that conceptual content in grounded theories can only come from perception of the external world. Because people perceive internal states, however, conceptual content can come from internal sources as well. Preliminary evidence suggests that introspective information is indeed central to the representation of abstract concepts (e.g., Barsalou & Wiemer-Hastings 2005, Wiemer-Hastings et al. 2001). Such findings suggest that we need to learn much more about how people perceive and conceptualize internal states. Notably, people simulate internal states similar to how they simulate external states (e.g., Havas et al. 2007, Niedenthal et al. 2005). Thus, simulations of internal states could provide much of the conceptual content central to abstract concepts (Barsalou 1999). Abstract concepts also appear to depend heavily on situations and situated action (Schwanenflugel 1991). Processing an abstract concept by itself is difficult but becomes much easier when a background situation contextualizes it. Barsalou & Wiemer-Hastings (2005) report evidence for extensive situational content in abstract concepts. Because the scientific study of concepts has primarily focused so far on concrete concepts, we actually know remarkably little about abstract concepts, even from the perspective of traditional cognitive theories. Nevertheless, abstract concepts appear to play central roles throughout human cognition, especially in meta-cognition, social interaction, education, industry, and social institutions. Regardless of whether simulations of introspections and situations underlie the representation of abstract concepts, much more effort should be devoted to understanding them.


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