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Archive for the ‘Embodied Cognition’ Category

Amy Cuddy on Power Posing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 13, 2013

From Time:

Using a few simple tweaks to body language, Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy discovers ways to help people become more powerful.

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The Gendered Situation of Smiling

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2013

Mona Lisa smile

By Soledad de Lemus, Russell Spears, & Miguel Moya wrote a terrific post on SPSP Blog about the mystery and meaning of the smile.  Here are some excerpts:

We  smile when we feel happy, but smiles are more than just the outward display of an inner emotion. We are far more likely to smile when we are with other people because a smile is a message: just one more way for people to communicate information to and establish social ties with other people.

A smile, though, sometimes means more than just “I am happy.” Just as many species bare their teeth to signal their dominance and rank, smiles exchanged among humans serve an interpersonal, regulatory function.  In our research we wanted to understand how smiles, which usually serve to signal  positive affiliation, also define status in the social hierarchy when the smile is coupled with other nonverbal information (e.g., posture). Specifically, we studied women’s nonverbal reaction to a man’s smile: will she, in addition to smiling back, also display signs of submissiveness, such as downcast eyes or a narrowing posture?

For social psychologists interested in gender, patronizing and paternalistic forms of discrimination have become a key focus of research in recent years. There are good reasons for this. Forms of prejudice and discrimination that are subtle make them more difficult to recognize and resist (Jackman, 1994), and these forms can be expressed more easily. For instance, gender relations are characterized by a power difference between men and women such that the men are considered as more worthy (e.g., as more competent, agentic than women) but women as friendlier, and more socially-oriented than men;  attributes that some consider to be important but less valuable in society. Further, gender stereotypes prescribe dominance to men compared to women, who are often expected to behave in a more submissive way to comply with the stereotypes of their group.

Other researchers have diligently explored how behaving in a complementary way in a social interaction helps to maintain positive relations, facilitating achievement of common goals. That is, when people are working together on a task with another person and they want to succeed in this task and also to maintain a positive interpersonal relations,  they will often respond to the other person’s behavior in a complementary way. This tendency generates interpersonal complementarity:  If one behaves in a dominant manner, the other will be more submissive (or vice versa), as long as there is a positive affiliation between them (e.g., they see each other as friendly and cooperative). These results have been found also when observing the non-verbal behavior of people during interpersonal interactions (Tiedens & Fragale, 2003).

Bringing together these two ideas (the role of power in gender relations, and the existence of complementary behavior in interpersonal relations), we hypothesized that in an affiliative setting—with smiles serving as strong signals of the situation’s positive emotional tone—people will display complementarity: in response to dominant behavior they will become more submissive, especially when gender is salient (i.e. in an intergroup context) providing a gender stereotypic basis for dominance vs. submission. When the context is more competitive (not affiliative –no smiling) the motivation will be to contest (compete with) the dominant behaviour, instead of complementing it.

We tested our hypotheses in three studies recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (de Lemus, Spears, & Moya, 2012).

. . .

Our research supports the argument that certain forms of prejudice and discrimination (sexism) that are subtle (disguised with a smile) make them more difficult to recognize and resist. The other way to frame our findings (perhaps in a more positive tone), is that when the smile is not present, women do seem to challenge male sexist dominance. This is, to some extent, a positive finding in terms of gender equality. We conclude our paper saying that “if women sustain the cycle of sexism unconsciously through their behavior this makes achieving gender equality harder than we might have thought. However, this implies that raising consciousness is literally as well as metaphorically the way forward.”

Read the rest of their post and a summary of their results here.

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Amy Cuddy on Body Language

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 4, 2013

Situationist friend, Amy Cuddy, delivers a fascinating TedTalk on how body language affects how others see us and on how we see ourselves.  Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

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BBC Replicates Bargh’s Famous Priming Study

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 23, 2012

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The Situation of Emotion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 27, 2012

From by :

Robert Levenson, UC Berkeley Department of Psychology, explores the changes in emotion that occur with age. Much of his research focuses on the nature of human emotion, in terms of its physiological manifestations, variations in emotion associated with age, gender, culture, and pathology, and the role emotion plays in interpersonal interactions.

A sample of related Situationist posts:

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The Situational Effects of Wealth and Status

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 6, 2012

From University of California Berkeley:

The upper class has a higher propensity for unethical behavior, being more likely to believe – as did Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” – that “greed is good,” according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley.

In seven separate studies conducted on the UC Berkeley campus, in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide, UC Berkeley researchers consistently found that upper-class participants were more likely to lie and cheat when gambling or negotiating; cut people off when driving, and endorse unethical behavior in the workplace.

“The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed,” said Paul Piff, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper published today (Monday, Feb. 27) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Piff’s study is the latest in a series of UC Berkeley scholarly investigations into the relationship between socio-economic class and prosocial and antisocial emotions and behaviors, revealing new information about class differences during a time of rising economic tension.

“As these issues come to the fore, our research – and that by others – helps shed light on the role of inequality in shaping patterns of ethical conduct and selfish behavior, and points to certain ways in which these patterns might also be changed,” Piff said.

To investigate how class relates to ethical conduct, the researchers surveyed the ethical tendencies of more than 1,000 individuals of lower-, middle- and upper-class backgrounds. Volunteers reported their social class using the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Socioeconomic Status and filled out surveys revealing their attitudes about unprincipled behaviors and greed. They also took part in tasks designed to measure their actual unethical behavior.

In two field studies on driving behavior, upper-class motorists were found to be four times more likely than the other drivers to cut off other vehicles at a busy four-way intersection and three times more likely to cut off a pedestrian waiting to enter a crosswalk. Another study found that upper-class participants presented with scenarios of unscrupulous behavior were more likely than the individuals in the other socio-economic classes to report replicating this type of behavior themselves.

Participants in the fourth study were assigned tasks in a laboratory where a jar of candy, reserved for visiting children, was on hand, and were invited to take a candy or two. Upper-class participants helped themselves to twice as much candy as did their counterparts in other classes.

In the fifth study, participants each were assigned the role of an employer negotiating a salary with a job candidate seeking long-term employment. Among other things, they were told that the job would soon be eliminated, and that they were free to convey that information to the candidate. Upper-class participants were more likely to deceive job candidates by withholding this information, the study found.

In the sixth study, participants played a computerized dice game, with each player getting five rolls of the dice and then reporting his or her scores. The player with the highest score would receive a cash prize. The players did not know that the game was rigged so that each player would receive no more than 12 points for the five rolls. Upper-class participants were more likely to report higher scores than would be possible, indicating a higher rate of cheating, according to the study.

The last study found attitudes about greed to be the most significant predictor of unethical behavior. Participants were primed to think about the advantages of greed and then presented with bad behavior-in-the-workplace scenarios, such as stealing cash, accepting bribes and overcharging customers. It turned out that even those participants not in the upper class were just as likely to report a willingness to engage in unethical behavior as the upper-class cohort once they had been primed to see the benefits of greed, researchers said.

“These findings have very clear implications for how increased wealth and status in society shapes patterns of ethical behavior, and suggest that the different social values among the haves and the have-nots help drive these tendencies,” Piff said of the cumulative findings.

Paper: “High social class predicts increased unethical behavior,” by Paul K. Piff, Daniel M. Stancato, Stéphane Côté, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Dacher Keltner, PNAS (2012). (link)

NPR Marketplace Story on Paper.

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Posted in Abstracts, Altruism, Distribution, Embodied Cognition, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Botoxifying Empathy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 28, 2012

From The Guardian (by Ian Tucker):

Tanya L Chartrand is a pro­fessor of psychology and neu­ro­science at the Duke Uni­versity Fuqua School of Busi­ness in North Car­olina. With David T Neal from the Uni­versity of South­ern California she re­cently pub­lished a paper enti­tled “Embod­ied Emotion Perception: Amplifying and Damp­ening Facial Feedback Modulates Emotional Perception Accuracy”, which found that us­ing Botox – a neu­rotoxin injected into muscles to reduce frown lines – reduces a per­son’s ability to empathise with oth­ers.

It wouldn’t surprise people to hear that it’s diffi­cult to tell what the Botoxed are feel­ing, but your study found that the Botoxed have lit­tle idea what we are feel­ing?

Yes, we always as­sume that you can’t tell what the Botoxed people are feel­ing because their faces are somewhat par­alyzed and can appear frozen, but what is less intuitive is that be­ing injected with Botox impairs their ability to under­stand what oth­er people around you are feel­ing.

To demonstrate this you asked women to look at photographs of people’s eyes and match them to human emotions…

Yes, it’s called the “Reading the mind in the eyes test“, and it’s sometimes giv­en to people on the autism spectrum. The people who had a Botox treat­ment in the pre­vi­ous two weeks were not as accurate as our con­trol group, who had been treated with Restylane – a skin filler – whose results were similar to untreated adults.

Why did you choose a con­trol group who had used filler, rather than a random group?

We wanted to match the two groups on ev­ery­thing we could except that one had the paralys­ing agent and the oth­er hadn’t. The Restylane group are demo­graph­ically similar to the Botox group – in terms of age and gender, socio-eco­nom­ic status, and had the same concerns with looking good. So if we got a random group of people who would nev­er have one of these cosmet­ic procedures then they could differ in a lot of oth­er ways. This way we made sure that we were just isolating the fact that Botox is

the cause.

The study talks about “embod­ied cog­nition” – could you explain?

This is the idea that the way we think and feel is grounded in our bod­ies. The way we under­stand oth­ers’ emotions is to expe­ri­ence those emotions our­selves. We do this with facial micro-mimicry. So if you are winc­ing in pain I im­me­diately do a micro-wince, and that sends signals to my brain that this per­son is expe­ri­enc­ing pain, and by expe­ri­enc­ing it my­self I now under­stand what you are go­ing through.

So Botox messes with our embod­ied cog­nition?

Yes, it’s interfering with that first step, which is mimicking facial ex­pres­sions and that’s what sets the whole thing off. If you can’t mimic some­one’s wince, your brain isn’t go­ing to be sent the same message – that this per­son is expe­ri­enc­ing pain – so you end up not be­ing as accurate and not re­ally under­standing the emotion.

If your empa­thy skills are inhib­ited by Botox what out­comes might that have for your day-to-day life?

My collab­orator, David Neal, was initially inter­ested in looking at the consequences for romantic relation­ships. Say if you’re married, you get Botox and then if you are not able to under­stand whatyour partner is feel­ing any more, it could lead to romantic dissatisfaction. We needed to see the ba­sic ef­fect before looking at some downstream consequences for marital satisfaction. This is maybe what we will study next.

So some­one could have Botox to look better, say for go­ing on dates, but then they find there’s no “connection”…

Absolutely. The irony is that having Botox to look better and be more attractive may make you less attractive in some ways, because you’re not empathis­ing with oth­ers so well.

So are the ben­efits of Botox overrated?

I know there’s been some research showing that Botox can help people who are de­pressed feel better. So I wouldn’t want to say there aren’t some pos­itive ben­efits people gain from feel­ing better about them­selves, feel­ing more attractive, feel­ing younger, but this is one neg­ative to point out to people. Some people will think, “Fine, I’d rather not empathise.” It’s not like Botox makes you completely un­able to under­stand any emotions in oth­ers, but it def­i­nitely reduces your capacity to under­stand those emotions.

The idea for the study came from a paper that said long and happily married couples began to resemble

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The Financial Situation of Empathy

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New Research on the Dangers of Private Law Enforcement

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 22, 2012

In my last post on the Trayvon Martin shooting, I suggested that the dispositionist narratives being offered by many in the media might be missing the real story of why this tragedy happened.  Indeed, it might come down to “a toxic combination of negative stereotypes (linking blacks and crime) and a culture increasingly encouraging private law enforcement.”  (The focus of this law review article.)

This suggests that the debate taking place over the case perhaps ought to be shifted to the implicit biases of private citizens engaged in “policing” activities.  To this end, I thought it was worth introducing some fascinating new research by Jessica Witt and James Brockmole to be published in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.  According to a Notre Dame press release focused on the paper,

Wielding a gun increases a person’s bias to see guns in the hands of others, new research from the University of Notre Dame shows.

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. . . .

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In five experiments, subjects were shown multiple images of people on a computer screen and determined whether the person was holding a gun or a neutral object such as a soda can or cell phone. Subjects did this while holding either a toy gun or a neutral object such as a foam ball.

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The researchers varied the situation in each experiment — such as having the people in the images sometimes wear ski masks, changing the race of the person in the image or changing the reaction subjects were to have when they perceived the person in the image to hold a gun. Regardless of the situation the observers found themselves in, the study showed that responding with a gun biased observers to report “gun present” more than did responding with a ball. Thus, by virtue of affording the subject the opportunity to use a gun, he or she was more likely to classify objects in a scene as a gun and, as a result, to engage in threat-induced behavior, such as raising a firearm to shoot.

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“Beliefs, expectations and emotions can all influence an observer’s ability to detect and to categorize objects as guns,” Brockmole says. “Now we know that a person’s ability to act in certain ways can bias their recognition of objects as well, and in dramatic ways. It seems that people have a hard time separating their thoughts about what they perceive and their thoughts about how they can or should act.”

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The researchers showed that the ability to act is a key factor in the effects by showing that simply letting observers see a nearby gun did not influence their behavior; holding and using the gun was important.

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“One reason we supposed that wielding a firearm might influence object categorization stems from previous research in this area, which argues that people perceive the spatial properties of their surrounding environment in terms of their ability to perform an intended action,” Brockmole says.

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For example, other research has shown that people with broader shoulders tend to perceive doorways to be narrower, and softball players with higher batting averages perceive the ball to be bigger. The blending of perception and action representations could explain, in part, why people holding a gun would tend to assume others are, too.

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. . . .

All of this raises the possibility that the tragic shootings of unarmed men like Trayvon might reflect the mistaken determination by the shooters that the victim posed a lethal threat caused, in part, by the simple act of the shooter carrying a gun.

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Enclothed Cognition

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 14, 2012

From Miller-McCune:

That’s the implication of a newly published study, which found wearing a white lab coat — a piece of clothing associated with care and attentiveness — improved performance on tests requiring close and sustained attention. Importantly, the effect was not found when the garment in question was identified as a visual artist’s coat.

“The clothes we wear have power not only over others, but also over ourselves,” Northwestern University scholars Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky write in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. While much research has looked at how our wardrobe influences the way we’re perceived, their study examines its impact on our own thinking and behavior.

Adam and Galinsky call this internal dynamic “enclothed cognition.” That’s a play off the term “embodied cognition,” a line of research that examines the ways bodily sensations influence our thoughts and emotions. For instance, a 2010 study found assuming a body position connoting power leads people to feel and act more confident, even raising testosterone levels.

Could wearing items of clothing that have specific symbolic meaning have a similar effect? To test their thesis, the researchers chose a lab coat, since it is “the prototypical attire of scientists and doctors. Wearing a lab coat thus signifies a scientific focus (and conveys) the importance of paying attention to the task at hand and not making errors.”

The first of their series of three experiments featured 58 undergraduates, half of whom wore a disposable white lab coat. (Participants were told their predecessors had worn these jackets during an earlier round of the study to protect their clothing from construction-related dust. They were asked to put on the garments so that everyone took the test under identical conditions.)

Selective attention was measured by a Stroop task, the classic test in which participants are instructed to name the color of a word flashed on a computer screen, while ignoring the word itself.

Twenty of the 50 words were presented in incongruent colors, such as the word “red” spelled out in green letters. On those confusing items, people wearing the lab coats made around half as many errors as their peers.

But a white coat can mean different things to different people. To address that issue, the researchers conducted an experiment featuring 99 students. One-third were asked to wear what was identified as a medical doctor’s coat, while another third wore an identical jacket that was described as the sort of attire worn by a visual artist while he or she is painting.

The others wore their normal clothing, but a coat described as the sort M.D.s wear was displayed on a desk in front of them. As the experiment began, they were asked to write a short essay about the specific, personal meaning such a coat has for them.

All were then asked to complete four visual-search tests that featured two nearly identical pictures placed side by side. There were four minor differences between the two images; participants were instructed to find the discrepancies and write them down as quickly as possible.

Those told they were wearing a doctor’s coat found more differences than those told they were wearing a painter’s coat. Since they all took about the same amount of time to finish the test, the researchers attributed their higher scores to “heightened attention” rather than simple persistence.

So wearing the simple garment focused their minds, but only when it was associated with medicine rather than artistic expression. Those who had looked at and thought about the doctor’s coat, but didn’t actually wear one, scored in between the other two groups.

“The main conclusion that we can draw from the studies is that the influence of wearing a piece of clothing depends on both its symbolic meaning and the physical experience of wearing the clothes,” Adam and Galinsky write. “There seems to be something special about the physical experience of wearing a piece of clothing.”

More.

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Image from Flickr.

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John Bargh on Situational Behavioral Influences

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 8, 2011

Situationist Contributor, John Bargh describes his remarkable research on “unsconscious behavioral guidance systems.”

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The Situation of Skin

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 14, 2011

From Psych Central (an article about the recent work of Situationist friend, Kurt Gray):

A new study finds that when men or women look at someone wearing revealing attire they perceive the individual as being more sensitive, yet not as smart.

University of Maryland psychologist Kurt Gray and colleagues from Yale and Northeastern University have published their study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In the article the researchers acknowledge the obvious — that it would be absurd to think people’s mental capacities fundamentally change when they remove clothing.

“In six studies, however, we show that taking off a sweater, or otherwise revealing flesh, can significantly change the way a mind is perceived.”

The study is unique as past research, feminist theory and parental admonishments all have long suggested that when men see a woman wearing little or nothing, they focus on her body and think less of her mind.

In the new study, the researchers show that paying attention to someone’s body can alter how both men and women view both women and men.

“An important thing about our study is that, unlike much previous research, ours applies to both sexes. It also calls into question the nature of objectification because people without clothes are not seen as mindless objects, but they are instead attributed a different kind of mind,” says UMD’s Gray.

“We also show that this effect can happen even without the removal of clothes. Simply focusing on someone’s attractiveness, in essence concentrating on their body rather than their mind, makes you see her or him as less of an agent [someone who acts and plans], more of an experiencer.”

Traditional psychological theory suggests that we see the mind of others on a continuum between the full mind of a normal human and the mindlessness of an inanimate object.

This paradigm, termed objectification, suggests that looking at someone in a sexual context — such as in pornography — leads people to focus on physical characteristics, turning them into an object without a mind or moral status.

However, recent findings indicate that rather than looking at others on a continuum from object to human, we see others as having two aspects of mind: agency and experience.

Agency is the capacity to act, plan and exert self-control, whereas experience is the capacity to feel pain, pleasure and emotions. Various factors – including the amount of skin shown – can shift which type of mind we see in another person.

During the study multiple experiments provided support for the two kinds of mind view. When men and women in the study focused on someone’s body, perceptions of agency (self-control and action) were reduced, and perceptions of experience (emotion and sensation) were increased.

Gray and colleagues suggest that this effect occurs because people unconsciously think of minds and bodies as distinct, or even opposite, with the capacity to act and plan tied to the “mind” and the ability to experience or feel tied to the body.

According to Gray, their findings indicate that the change in perception that results from showing skin is not all bad.

“A focus on the body, and the increased perception of sensitivity and emotion it elicits might be good for lovers in the bedroom,” he says.

Researchers also found that a body focus can actually increase moral standing. Although those wearing little or no clothes –or otherwise represented as a body – were seen to be less morally responsible, they also were seen to be more sensitive to harm and hence deserving of more protection.

“Others appear to be less inclined to harm people with bare skin and more inclined to protect them. In one experiment, for example, people viewing male subjects with their shirts off were less inclined to give those subjects uncomfortable electric shocks than when the men had their shirts on,” Gray says.

Practically, the researchers note that in settings where people are primarily evaluated on their capacity to plan and act, a body focus clearly has negative effects.

Seeing someone as a body strips him or her of competence and leadership, potentially impacting job evaluations.

More.

Image from Flickr.

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The Embodied Situation of our Cognitions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 7, 2011

From Scientific American:

Embodied cognition, the idea that the mind is not only connected to the body but that the body influences the mind, is one of the more counter-intuitive ideas in cognitive science. In sharp contrast is dualism, a theory of mind famously put forth by Rene Descartes in the 17th century when he claimed that “there is a great difference between mind and body, inasmuch as body is by nature always divisible, and the mind is entirely indivisible… the mind or soul of man is entirely different from the body.” In the proceeding centuries, the notion of the disembodied mind flourished. From it, western thought developed two basic ideas: reason is disembodied because the mind is disembodied and reason is transcendent and universal. However, as George Lakoff and Rafeal Núñez explain:

Cognitive science calls this entire philosophical worldview into serious question on empirical grounds… [the mind] arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experiences. This is not just the innocuous and obvious claim that we need a body to reason; rather, it is the striking claim that the very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment… Thus, to understand reason we must understand the details of our visual system, our motor system, and the general mechanism of neural binding.

What exactly does this mean? It means that our cognition isn’t confined to our cortices. That is, our cognition is influenced, perhaps determined by, our experiences in the physical world. This is why we say that something is “over our heads” to express the idea that we do not understand; we are drawing upon the physical inability to not see something over our heads and the mental feeling of uncertainty. Or why we understand warmth with affection; as infants and children the subjective judgment of affection almost always corresponded with the sensation of warmth, thus giving way to metaphors such as “I’m warming up to her.”

Embodied cognition has a relatively short history. Its intellectual roots date back to early 20th century philosophers Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and John Dewey and it has only been studied empirically in the last few decades. One of the key figures to empirically study embodiment is University of California at Berkeley professor George Lakoff.

Lakoff was kind enough to field some questions over a recent phone conversation, where I learned about his interesting history first hand. After taking linguistic courses in the 1960s under Chomsky at MIT, where he eventually majored in English and Mathematics, he studied linguistics in grad school at Indiana University. It was a different world back then, he explained, “it was the beginning of computer science and A.I and the idea that thought could be described with formal logic dominated much of philosophical thinking. Turing machines were popular discussion topics, and the brain was widely understood as a digital computational device.” Essentially, the mind was thought of as a computer program separate from the body with the brain as general-purpose hardware.

Chomsky’s theory of language as a series of meaningless symbols fit this paradigm. It was a view of language in which grammar was independent of meaning or communication. In contrast, Lakoff found examples showing that grammar was depended of meaning in 1963. From this observation he constructed a theory called Generative Semantics, which was also disembodied, where logical structures were built into grammar itself.

To be sure, cognitive scientists weren’t dualists like Descartes – they didn’t actually believe that the mind was physically separate from the body – but they didn’t think that the body influenced cognition. And it was during this time – throughout the 60s and 70s -Lakoff realized the flaws of thinking about the mind as a computer and began studying embodiment.

The tipping point came after attending four talks that hinted at embodied language at Berkeley in the summer of 1975. In his words, they forced him to “give up and rethink linguistics and the brain.” This prompted him and a group of colleagues to start cognitive linguistics, which contrary to Chomskyan theory and the entire mind as a computer paradigm, held that “semantics arose from the nature of the body.” Then, in 1978, he “discovered that we think metaphorically,” and spent the next year gathering as many metaphors as he could find.

Many cognitive scientists accepted his work on metaphors though it opposed much of mainstream thought in philosophy and linguistics. He caught a break on January 2nd 1979, when he got a call from Mark Johnson . . . .  What came next was one of the more groundbreaking books in cognitive science. After co-writing a paper for the journal of philosophy in the spring of 1979, Lakoff and Johnson began working on Metaphors We Live By, and managed to finish it three months later.

Their book extensively examined how, when and why we use metaphors. Here are a few examples. We understand control as being UP and being subject to control as being DOWN: We say, “I have control over him,” “I am on top of the situation,” “He’s at the height of his power,” and, “He ranks above me in strength,” “He is under my control,” and “His power is on the decline.” Similarly, we describe love as being a physical force: “I could feel the electricity between us,” “There were sparks,” and “They gravitated to each other immediately.” Some of their examples reflected embodied experience. For example, Happy is Up and Sad is Down, as in “I’m feeling up today,” and “I’m feel down in the dumbs.” These metaphors are based on the physiology of emotions, which researchers such as Paul Eckman have discovered. It’s no surprise, then, that around the world, people who are happy tend to smile and perk up while people who are sad tend to droop.

Metaphors We Live By was a game changer. Not only did it illustrate how prevalent metaphors are in everyday language, it also suggested that a lot of the major tenets of western thought, including the idea that reason is conscious and passionless and that language is separate from the body aside from the organs of speech and hearing, were incorrect. In brief, it demonstrated that “our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.”

After Metaphors We Live By was published, embodiment slowly gained momentum in academia. In the 1990s dissertations by Christopher Johnson, Joseph Grady and Srini Narayanan led to a neural theory of primary metaphors. They argued that much of our language comes from physical interactions during the first several years of life, as the Affection is Warmth metaphor illustrated. There are many other examples; we equate up with control and down with being controlled because stronger people and objects tend to control us, and we understand anger metaphorically in terms of heat pressure and loss of physical control because when we are angry our physiology changes e.g., skin temperature increases, heart beat rises and physical control becomes more difficult.

* * *

As Lakoff points out, metaphors are more than mere language and literary devices, they are conceptual in nature and represented physically in the brain. As a result, such metaphorical brain circuitry can affect behavior. For example, in a study done by Yale psychologist John Bargh, participants holding warm as opposed to cold cups of coffee were more likely to judge a confederate as trustworthy after only a brief interaction. Similarly, at the University of Toronto, “subjects were asked to remember a time when they were either socially accepted or socially snubbed. Those with warm memories of acceptance judged the room to be 5 degrees warmer on the average than those who remembered being coldly snubbed. Another effect of Affection Is Warmth.” This means that we both physically and literary “warm up” to people.

The last few years have seen many complementary studies, all of which are grounded in primary experiences:

• Thinking about the future caused participants to lean slightly forward while thinking about the past caused participants to lean slightly backwards. Future is Ahead

• Squeezing a soft ball influenced subjects to perceive gender neutral faces as female while squeezing a hard ball influenced subjects to perceive gender neutral faces as male. Female is Soft

• Those who held heavier clipboards judged currencies to be more valuable and their opinions and leaders to be more important. Important is Heavy.

• Subjects asked to think about a moral transgression like adultery or cheating on a test were more likely to request an antiseptic cloth after the experiment than those who had thought about good deeds. Morality is Purity

Studies like these confirm Lakoff’s initial hunch – that our rationality is greatly influenced by our bodies in large part via an extensive system of metaphorical thought. How will the observation that ideas are shaped by the body help us to better understand the brain in the future?

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More.

Related Situationist posts:

 

 

 

Posted in Classic Experiments, Embodied Cognition | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Money Priming

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 21, 2011

From the BBC’s “Bang Goes the Theory Team.”

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Choice Myth, Embodied Cognition, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

U Can’t Touch This

Posted by Adam Benforado on July 14, 2011

Look around and you will see countless examples of how we conceptualize luck as following the “logic of contagion”: the star baseball player who refuses to change his socks during his record-breaking hitting streak; the basketball player who takes a shower during halftime of a playoff game after going 0-12 from the field; the students rubbing the foot of a lucky statute on their way to a big exam.

Luck, good or bad, seems to have a certain “stickiness.”

Over the weekend my friend Norbert Schwarz sent me a fascinating new article that he has just published with Alison Jing Xu and Rami Zwick in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that investigates this very phenomenon.  The abstract of the paper appears below:

Many superstitious practices entail the belief that good or bad luck can be “washed away.” Consistent with this belief, participants who recalled (Experiment 1) or experienced (Experiment 2) an episode of bad luck were more willing to take risk after having as opposed to not having washed their hands, whereas participants who recalled or experienced an episode of good luck were less willing to take risk after having as opposed to not having washed their hands. Thus, the psychological effects of physical cleansings extend beyond the domain of moral judgment and are independent of people’s motivation: incidental washing not only removes undesirable traces of the past (such as bad luck) but also desirable ones (such as good luck), which people would rather preserve.

You can check out the whole article, Washing Away Your (Good or Bad) Luck: Physical Cleansing Affects Risk-Taking Behavior, here.

As a fan of Norbert’s work, I’m a bit biased, but it’s a great contribution to the growing embodied cognition literature.

For a recent review of the implications of the field for law and legal theory, click here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Embodied Cognition | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tanya Chartrand on Social Mimicry

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 13, 2011

From The Human Spark:

Obvious mimicry can be maddening – as the “Stop copying me!” refrain screamed by generations of siblings can attest. But in this Web-Exclusive Video, Alan Alda learns that subtle mimicry in social situations can actually lead to positive emotions and behaviors. Duke University psychologist Tanya Chartrand enlists Alan as a participant in her research.

Watch this clip to learn about social mimicry – and why you can’t expect an actor not to always have the best interests of the camera in mind!

Related Situationist posts:

 

 

Posted in Altruism, Embodied Cognition, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Psychology of Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 25, 2011

Elaine McCardle wrote a terrific review of last month’s Fifth Annual PLMS Conference.  Her article is the spotlight piece on the Harvard Law School website and includes several excellent videos, photos, and links.  Here’s the story.

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While equality is a fundamental principle of American law and the bedrock of the national psyche, inequality has actually increased in the past four decades in the distribution of wealth, power, opportunity, even health. Yet the topic of inequality has received relatively little attention from legal theorists, and, for the most part, it is ignored in the basic law school curriculum.

A conference last month at HLS, “The Psychology of Inequality,” presented by the Project on Law & Mind Sciences (PLMS), stepped into that vacuum, bringing together scholars, law students, and others to examine inequality from the standpoint of the latest research in social science, health science, and mind science, and to reflect on the implications of their findings for law. The HLS Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS), together with a group of roughly 20 students, were instrumental in organizing the conference.

“Inequality matters in ways that are not commonly understood, including in how people see and make sense of the world,” saysJon Hanson, the Alfred Smart Professor of Law and Director of PLMS. “Indeed, the way people respond to instances of inequality – either by equalizing, or by rationalizing – appears to be a very significant factor in how they view markets, regulation, and many important policy and social issues. So when we engage in policy debates, mustering all our best arguments and evidence in favor of a given policy conclusion we shouldn’t be perplexed when our opponent doesn’t budge,” says Hanson. “Such recalcitrance on both sides of a discussion often reflects, not the inadequacy, but the irrelevance, of the reasons being exchanged. Behind it all may be a conflict between largely subconscious urges: some people would rather rationalize inequality while others lean toward equalizing.”

Hanson was one of more than a dozen scholars who spoke at the Feb. 26 conference, the fifth annual conference by PLMS, founded by Hanson six years ago to promote interdisciplinary exchange and collaboration between the mind sciences and the l

egal community. PMLS supports research, writing and conferences in order to dislodge the prevailing “dispositionist” approach of law – which holds that human beings, for the most part, make rational choices based on logical preferences – in favor of a “situationist approach.” Situationsim recognizes that social sciences and mind sciences, including social psychology, social cognition, and cognitive neuroscience, have repeatedly demonstrated that human behavior is influenced by countless factors ignored by the dispositionist approach, which collectively are known as “situation.”

Jaime Napier, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, presented her research on the ways in which high-status and low-status groups differ in their rationalizations of inequality. High-status people tend to place blame on individuals for their lot in life, while low-status people tend to see theirs as the natural order of things. Eric Knowles, an assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine, discussed his theory of “malleable ideologies,” through which different groups with a same core ideology – say, “life is sacred” – can come to different outcomes on issues such as abortion or the death penalty. Adam Benforado ’05, a former student of Hanson’s and an assistant professor at the Earl Mach School of Law at Drexel University, presented on the mind-body connection in decision-making, including how seemingly innocuous environmental influences such as room temperature might have significant influence on decisions made by juries and judges. Ichiro Kawachi, a Professor of Social Epidemiology and Chair of the Social/Behavioral Sciences Department at the Harvard School of Public Health, discussed research showing that people of lower social status lead shorter, sicker lives, while other speakers discussed ways that social disparities influence health, how even young children favor high-status individuals, and the drive among humans to view the world as essentially fair.

In addition to national experts in the areas of health, psychology, and mind sciences, a number of HLS faculty contributed to the discussion from their areas of expertise in a panel discussion (see video below), including John Palfrey ’01, the Henry N. Ess III

Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources, an expert on the internet; Lucie White ’81, the Louis A. Horvitz Professor of Law, who specializes in poverty law and international economic and social rights; Robert C. Bordone ’97, the Thaddeus R. Beal Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program; Stella Burch Elias, a Climenko Fellow and Lecturer on Law and Andrew Woods ’07, a Climenko Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in politics at Cambridge University.

In that discussion, Hanson shared some provocative ideas. The good news, he said, is that humans have an egalitarian impulse, so that inequality causes them discomfort; some resolve the conflict by redistributing so that there is more equality, while others rationalize with reasons that explain the inequality. The bad news, Hanson added, is that it’s not terribly hard to move someone away from the equalizing impulse.

“When you experience fear and threat – personal threat, group threat, system threat – you become a hardcore dispositionist,” said Hanson, snapping his fingers, “just like that!”

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More here. Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Distribution, Education, Embodied Cognition, Events, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Situationism in the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 31, 2011

From Boston Globe (by Kevin Lewis):

The Brand-Name Ego Boost:

Researchers found that using a generic (vs. brand name) product undermines self-esteem. In one experiment, university students were asked to type out a resume, ostensibly for a recruiting event. Students used an Apple iMac to type their resumes and were told that the keyboard and mouse were new. Some students, though, were told that the keyboard and mouse were generic parts — to save money. The students who used the generic keyboard reported expecting a lower salary.  More . . .

Lower stress through writing:

Researchers at the University of Chicago have shown that expressive writing before a test can boost scores.  More . . .

Higher ground:

Everyone assumes that heaven is high above the ground somewhere, while hell is down below. But why can’t heaven be below us, and hell high above? According to a new study, our brains seem to automatically link elevation with goodwill. In one experiment in a mall in mid-December 2009, researchers set up Salvation Army kettles in three locations: the top of an escalator, the bottom of an escalator, and away from any escalators. Shoppers contributed more often at the top of the escalator and least often at the bottom of the escalator. More . . .

Explaining Willow and Trig:

Let’s call it the Sarah Palin effect, in honor of Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. A new analysis suggests that parents living on the frontier tend to give their kids unusual names. . . . These differences seem to be explained by the greater individualistic culture of the frontier. More . . .

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll, Embodied Cognition | 1 Comment »

When Salsa Is More Than Salsa . . .

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 20, 2010

Ask anyone in legal academia about the annual U.S. News rankings and you will undoubtedly hear a long list of complaints about how they fail to capture the strengths and weaknesses of schools, encourage deans to invest in the wrong things, and offer little true insight for prospective students.

Yet no one has managed to articulate a feasible plan for breaking free from their choke hold and so nearly every law school in the country plays the rankings game to one degree or another, whether it is hiring experts to help increase incoming LSAT scores or sending out glossy brochures to the chosen few who vote on faculty reputation scores.

A few weeks ago, however, Brooklyn Law School took things to a new level by sending out . . . spicy salsa!

As my colleague, Dan Filler, argued over at the Faculty Lounge, the idea was clearly to get everyone thinking that Brooklyn Law is “hot” right now.  Indeed, the label on the glass jar says as much.

But I wonder about the mechanism.

Could there be some embodied cognition effects going on here?

Could this be the natural extension of Lawrence Williams and John Bargh’s 2008 Science article “Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth“?

As Williams and Bargh suggested, “‘Warmth’ is the most powerful personality trait in social judgment . . . [and] experiences of physical warmth (or coldness) . . . increase feelings of interpersonal warmth (or coldness), without the person’s awareness of this influence.”

It’s time to do an experiment looking at whether eating hot (spicy) food leads to judgments that people, ideas, and entitities are “hot.”

Budding psychologist collaborators out there, let’s pull the IRB together and get this study up and running.  I’ll supply the salsa.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Embodied Situation of Power,”  The Situational Power of Appearance and Posture,” “The Situational Effects of Hand-Washing,” Embodied Rationality,” andThe Embodied Cognition Bonanza!.”

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Law, Marketing | 1 Comment »

The Embodied Situation of Power

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 7, 2010

From LiveScience:

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When suiting up with that “power tie,” you may also want to strike a pose — a power pose, that is. New research indicates that holding a pose that opens up a person’s body and takes up space will alter hormone levels and make the person feel more powerful and more willing to take risks. “These poses actually make you more powerful,” said study researcher Amy C.J. Cuddy, a social psychologist at the Harvard Business School.

The opposite also proved true: Constrictive postures lowered a person’s sense of power and willingness to take risks. Cuddy teaches the results of the study to her students. . . .

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In the study, researchers randomly assigned 42 participants, 26 of them women, to assume and hold a pair of either low- or high-power poses. The high-power posers spent one minute sitting in a chair in front of a desk, with feet resting on it and hands clasped behind the head, and, in the other pose, they stood, leaning forward over a table, with arms out and hands resting on the table. In both poses, the participants took up space, an expression of power not unique to the human world. For example, peacocks fan their tails to attract a mate and chimpanzees bulge their chests to assert their hierarchical rank, the researchers noted.

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The low-power group sat for one minute with their hands clasped on their thighs, legs together, and also stood for one minute with arms folded and legs crossed.

After the subjects had finished their poses, they were given $2 with the option of keeping it or gambling it on the roll of a die. Depending on the outcome, the subjects could double their money or lose it.

Subjects also were asked to rate how “powerful” and “in charge” they felt. The researchers measured hormone levels before and after the poses.

Those who held the high-power poses saw their testosterone increase, while their levels of a stress hormone, cortisol, decreased. Testosterone is associated with dominance and tends to rise before a competition and after a win, but not after a defeat, according to prior research. People in power tend to have lower levels of cortisol. Although cortisol levels can fluctuate in response to challenges, chronically elevated cortisol levels seen among people with low status have been associated with health problems.

The high-power posers were more likely to risk their $2 for the chance to double it: Eighty-six percent took the gamble, compared with 60 percent of the low-power posers. They also reported feeling more powerful and in charge than did the low-power posers.

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Read the whole story at LiveScience.  Image from Flickr.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situational Power of Appearance and Posture,” “The Situational Effects of Hand-Washing,” The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” “The Situation of Trust,” Embodied Rationality,”The Embodied Cognition Bonanza!,”  “The Situation of Body Image,” The Magnetism of Beautiful People,” “Sam Gosling on the Meaning of the Stuff in our Situation,” “The Situation of Touch,” and “The Situation of Hair Color.”

Posted in Distribution, Embodied Cognition | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situational Effects of Mirror Neurons

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 5, 2010

From TEDxTalks:

Gustaf Gredebäck is an Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology, Uppsala University where he manages the Uppsala Babylab. His research span several topics including occulomotor development, social cognition, and object representations in infancy. Central to his research is the active infant, that perceive, interpret, and interact with his/her physical and social environment in a goal directed and future oriented manner.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “A (Situationist) Body of Thought,” Smart People Thinking about People Thinking about People Thinking,” “A Closer Look at Interior Situation,” “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness – Part IV,” “The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” and “Brainicize: The Situational Malleability of our Brains.”

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Life, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

 
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