This article is part of the Research Topic The role of body and environment in cognition

Hypothesis & Theory ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 12 February 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00058

Embodied cognition is not what you think it is

  • School of Social, Psychological and Communication Sciences, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK

The most exciting hypothesis in cognitive science right now is the theory that cognition is embodied. Like all good ideas in cognitive science, however, embodiment immediately came to mean six different things. The most common definitions involve the straight-forward claim that “states of the body modify states of the mind.” However, the implications of embodiment are actually much more radical than this. If cognition can span the brain, body, and the environment, then the “states of mind” of disembodied cognitive science won’t exist to be modified. Cognition will instead be an extended system assembled from a broad array of resources. Taking embodiment seriously therefore requires both new methods and theory. Here we outline four key steps that research programs should follow in order to fully engage with the implications of embodiment. The first step is to conduct a task analysis, which characterizes from a first person perspective the specific task that a perceiving-acting cognitive agent is faced with. The second step is to identify the task-relevant resources the agent has access to in order to solve the task. These resources can span brain, body, and environment. The third step is to identify how the agent can assemble these resources into a system capable of solving the problem at hand. The last step is to test the agent’s performance to confirm that agent is actually using the solution identified in step 3. We explore these steps in more detail with reference to two useful examples (the outfielder problem and the A-not-B error), and introduce how to apply this analysis to the thorny question of language use. Embodied cognition is more than we think it is, and we have the tools we need to realize its full potential.

Keywords: embodied cognition, dynamical systems, replacement hypothesis, robotics, outfielder problem, A-not-B error, language

Citation: Wilson AD and Golonka S (2013) Embodied cognition is not what you think it is. Front. Psychology 4:58. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00058

Received: 31 August 2012; Accepted: 26 January 2013;
Published online: 12 February 2013.

Edited by:

Louise Connell, University of Manchester, UK

Reviewed by:

Louise Connell, University of Manchester, UK
Tad Brunye, US Army NSRDEC and Tufts University, USA
Louise Barrett, University of Lethbridge, Canada

Copyright: © 2013 Wilson and Golonka. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Andrew D. Wilson, School of Social, Psychological and Communication Sciences, Leeds Metropolitan University, Civic Quarter, Calverley Street, Leeds LS1 3HE, UK. e-mail: a.d.wilson@leedsmet.ac.uk

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