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Archive for the ‘Embodied Cognition’ Category

The Future of Embodied Cogntion

Posted by Adam Benforado on July 28, 2010

I have just returned from the fabulous Barnard Interdisciplinary Workshop on Embodiment. The three-day workshop, funded by the National Science Foundation, brought together 23 experts from across the cognitive sciences and humanities—including George Lakoff, Larry Barsalou, and Vittorio Gallese—to plan and discuss the future of the rapidly growing field.

I was lucky enough to participate as a representative from legal academia and I must say that I am more convinced than ever that embodiment research is set to revolutionize a number of disciplines both inside the mind sciences and without.

In the coming weeks, I hope to bring more new work from embodied cognition to the Situationist, so find those soft slippers, put the tea kettle on, and sit back in a comfy chair . . .

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For a sample of previous Situationist posts on the topic, click on “The Embodied Situation of Metaphors” and the links it contains.

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Events, Situationist Contributors | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Practice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 17, 2010

From USC News:

Struggling with your chip shot? Constant drills with your wedge may not help much, but mixing in longer drives will, and a new study shows why.

Previous studies have shown that variable practice improves the brain’s memory of most skills better than practice focused on a single task. Cognitive neuroscientists at USC and UCLA describe the neural basis for this paradox in a new study in Nature Neuroscience.

The researchers split 59 volunteers into six groups: three groups were asked to practice a challenging arm movement, while the other three groups practiced the movement and related tasks in a variable practice structure.

Volunteers in the variable practice group showed better retention of the skill. The process of consolidating memory of the skill engaged a part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex – associated with higher level planning.

The group assigned to constant practice of the arm movement retained the skill to a lesser degree through consolidation that engaged a part of the brain – the primary motor cortex – associated with simple motor learning.

“In the variable practice structure condition, you’re basically solving the motor problem anew each time. If I’m just repeating the same thing over and over again as in the constant practice condition, I don’t have to process it very deeply,” said study senior author Carolee Winstein, professor of biokinesiology and physical therapy at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.

“We gravitate toward a simple, rote practice structure because we’re basically lazy, and we don’t want to work hard. But it turns out that memory is enhanced when we engage in practice that is more challenging and requires us to reconstruct the activity,” Winstein said.

Winstein’s team, led by Shailesh Kantak, a graduate student in biokinesiology at the time of the study, verified the neural circuits involved through harmless magnetic interference applied immediately after practice.

Volunteers in the variable practice group who received magnetic stimulation in the prefrontal cortex failed to retain or “consolidate” the arm movement as well as those in the same group who did not receive magnetic stimulation.

This implied that the prefrontal cortex was necessary for consolidating the memory.

Likewise, constant practice volunteers who received magnetic stimulation in the primary motor cortex failed to retain the arm movement as well as volunteers in the same group who did not receive magnetic stimulation.

“While it may be harder during practice to switch between tasks … you end up remembering the tasks better later than you do if you engage in this drill-like practice,” Winstein said.

“In motor skills training they know this, in educational programs where they’re teaching the kids cursive hand writing, they know this.”

Winstein described the study as “the linking of motor neuroscience to behavioral movement science to better understand the neural substrates that mediate motor learning through optimal practice structures. No one had done this before in this way.”

The magnetic interference tests also helped define the time window for the brain to consolidate skills. For volunteers chosen to receive interference four hours after practice, the procedure had no effect on learning. This suggested the brain already had done its consolidation.

Winstein’s team included first author Kantak, a recent USC Ph.D. graduate on his way to a postdoctoral position at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago; fellow biokinesiology faculty Katherine Sullivan (primary adviser to Kantak) and Beth Fisher, director of the Neuroplasticity and Imaging Laboratory where the study was conducted; and Barbara Knowlton, professor of behavioral neuroscience at UCLA.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of ‘Genius’,” Wise Parents Don’t Have “Smart” Kids,” Jock or Nerd,” “The Situation of “29″ & the Downside of Goal-Setting,” The Unconscious Genius of Baseball Players,” The Situation of a Baseball Pitch,” The Batting Situation,Team-Interested Decision Making,” and The Situation of ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers’.”

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

The Situation of Touch

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 5, 2010

From Situationist Contributor John Bargh’s ACME Lab:

Sitting in a hard chair can literally turn someone into a hardass. Holding a heavy clipboard leads to weighty decisions. Rubbing rough surfaces makes us prickly. So found researchers studying the interaction between physical touch and social cognition. The experiments included would-be car buyers who, when seated in a cushy chair, were less likely to drive a stiff bargain. The findings don’t just suggest tricks for salesman, but may illuminate how our brains develop.

“The way people understand the world is through physical experiences. The first sense they develop is touch,” said study co-author Josh Ackerman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychologist. As they grow up, those physical experiences shape how people conceptualize abstract, social experience, he said. “Later on, you can do what we did — trigger different physical experiences, and produce changes in people’s thoughts.”

Published June 24 in Science, the study is the latest addition to a booming field of embodied cognition, which over the last decade has scientifically eroded the notion that mind and body are distinctly separate.

The paper was co-authored by Yale University psychologist [and Situationist Contributor] John Bargh. His group is especially interested in touch, which is one of the first senses to develop.

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You can read more in Wired, Discover, and Boston Observer.  You can also listen to John Bargh interviewed by NPR on Science Friday.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Embodied Rationality,”The Embodied Cognition Bonanza!,” The Embodied Situation of Metaphors,” Our Metaphorical Situation,” The Situation of Metaphors,” “Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will DebatePart I & Part II” “The Situation of Body Temperature,” Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Unclean Hands,” “The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” Ideology Shaping Situation, or Vice Versa?,” “The Situation of Snacking,” “The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

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

The Situation of Red Ink

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 4, 2010

Last week, NPR’s All Things Considered included a story by Guy Raz about California psychology professor Abraham Rutchick‘s study of how people use red and blue pens to grade papers. Rutchick tells host Raz that the red graders were way tougher than those who used blue pens.  Here are some excerpts from the interview (which you can listen at this link).

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GUY RAZ, host: Tell me how you went about studying this theory.

Prof. RUTCHICK: The basic idea is that throughout our lives we get papers handed back to us from teachers with a bunch of corrections on them, and typically they’re in red ink.

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Prof. RUTCHICK: That happens enough times over the course of our lives that the idea of red ink and red pens and error is in correction, you know, gets sort of lodged in our brains. And so it struck us that the very acts of picking up such a pen if you’re using a red pen would activate those ideas again when you go to create something later on.

To test this, what we did is we did a very simple experiment with two conditions. We randomly assigned people to either use a red pen or a pen of a different color. And they, in the first study, simply completed a series of words. So, for instance, F-A-I-blank…

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Prof. RUTCHICK: It could be L if you’re using a red pen . . . that seems more likely.

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Prof. RUTCHICK: And if you’re using, you know, perhaps a blue pen or you’re not having failure on the brain, you might write fair, right? And so it could be one or the other. And the degree to which people complete those words is sort of associated with the degree to which this concept has been activated in their brains.

RAZ: So people with red pens tended to write an L at the end of that word and people with blue pens would write an R?

Prof. RUTCHICK: Precisely.

RAZ: Did any of your subjects actually get to grade papers with different colored pens?

Prof. RUTCHICK: Yes. That was just our first study. And our second, they evaluated an essay that had a bunch of errors in it and they were told to mark as many mistakes as they found and they marked more errors using red pens than using blue pens.

RAZ: So when they used blue pens they found fewer errors in…

Prof. RUTCHICK: Fewer errors, yeah, about 19 in this particular essay versus about 24. And our third study, which was really the most striking one, this was one where the essays had no actual objective errors. There were no errors in grammar or spelling; just a bunch of sub-optimal word choices.

RAZ: Everybody had the same essay?

Prof. RUTCHICK: Precisely. So each person comes in they come in individually, of course they each get one essay to read. It’s the same essay for everyone. And just before they start, they’re given a pen with which to do the corrections and mark the grade and that pen is either red or blue. And we found in this third study that the people with red pens assigned lower grades than the people with blue pens.

RAZ: How wide was the gap between those who had the blue and those who had the red pens? I mean, how wide was the disparity?

Prof. RUTCHICK: It was about four-point to 100-point scale. So the difference between a B-minus and a C-plus.

RAZ: So it was that big simply because of the color of their pens?

Prof. RUTCHICK: Yeah, it is. I mean, these are subjective errors, in a sense. So people are reading this essay and they’re deciding kind of freely; there’s no obvious answer that this is right and this is wrong. They’re kind of deciding how good is this thing? When you have that kind of subjectivity in grading, all sorts of little things can influence you one way or another.

RAZ: What does this tell us about red pens?

Prof. RUTCHICK: Well, it tells us that they’re a source of influence that we’re usually unaware of. They certainly activate these ideas of failure and wrongness and correction.

RAZ: I mean, how much do you think this is about associations, really? Because to say, you know, all school districts in America all of a sudden said: Okay, all papers have to mark up papers in blue ink. After 20 years or so, wouldn’t kids start associating blue ink with marked up papers?

Prof. RUTCHICK: In my view, it is mostly due to the association that’s built up over time. It wouldn’t happen immediately, of course, but in a couple of decades, as you suggest, that’s what would happen. There are a few reasons to believe that maybe red is special in this regard.

They did a study a few years back in the journal Nature where Olympians in combat sports who were wearing red actually were more likely to win. And the author suggested that had to do with red activating aggression, dominance and testosterone.

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You can listen to the interview or read the entire transcript here.  It includes Professor Rutchick’s explanation for why he continues to use a red pen when grading his own students’ work.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Being Green,” The Color of Sex Appeal,” “The Primitive Appeal of The Color Red,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Education, Embodied Cognition, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situational Effects of Hand-Washing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 11, 2010

NPR’s Morning Edition had a recent story (by Nell Greenfieldboyce) about research on the effects of hand-washing.  Here are some excerpts.

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Soaping up your hands may do more than just get rid of germs. It may scrub away the inner turmoil you feel right after being forced to make a choice between two appealing options.

That’s according to a new study on the psychological effects of hand washing in the journal Science. The study builds on past research into a phenomenon known as “the Macbeth effect.”

It turns out that Shakespeare was really onto something when he imagined Lady Macbeth trying to clean her conscience by rubbing invisible bloodstains from her hands. A few years ago, scientists asked people to describe a past unethical act. If people were then given a chance to clean their hands, they later expressed less guilt and shame than people who hadn’t cleansed.

This finding fascinated Spike W. S. Lee, a psychology researcher at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He wondered if hand washing could restore more than just a sense of moral purity. After all, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” but people also often talk about “starting over with a clean slate.”

“Maybe there is a broader phenomenon here,” says Lee. “Anything from the past, any kind of negative emotional experiences, might be washed away.”

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He and a colleague named Norbert Schwarz decided to test hand washing’s effect on one kind of bad feeling: the lingering tension we feel after being forced to choose between two attractive options, because picking one option makes us feel that we’ve lost the other.

Psychologists know that people usually try to soothe this inner conflict by later exaggerating the positive aspects of their choice. “In other words, after they make the choice, they will like the chosen option more than before the choice,” Lee explains.

To see if hand washing could ease people’s tension and do away with the need for this after-the-fact justification, the researchers gave some students some mock “consumer surveys.”

They had students rank 10 different music CDs. Then, as a token of appreciation, the researchers offered students one CD as a take-home gift — they had to choose between their fifth- and sixth-ranked CDs.

Some students then lathered up with liquid soap, supposedly to evaluate this product. Others only looked at the soap or sniffed it.

Later, the students again had to rank all the music. People who didn’t wash their hands had the normal response — they scored their take-home CD higher than they had the first time around, suggesting that they now saw it as even more attractive than before.

But this wasn’t true for the hand washers. They ranked the music about the same.

“They feel no need at all to justify the choice,” says Lee.

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The researchers did another version of this experiment and found the exact same effect after people selected a jar of fruit jam and then rubbed their hands with an antiseptic wipe. “Apparently, you do not need water and soap,” says Schwarz — any kind of hand cleaning will do the trick.

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You can listen to the entire story, including topics of related future research,  here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Unclean Hands,”The Embodied Situation of Metaphors,” Our Metaphorical Situation,” The Situation of Metaphors,” “Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will DebatePart I & Part II” “The Situation of Body Temperature,” Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,”The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” Ideology Shaping Situation, or Vice Versa?,” “The Situation of Snacking,” “The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Embodied Cognition, Life, Morality | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Embodied Rationality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 17, 2010

Barbara Spellman and  Simone Schnall recently posted their fascinating paper, Embodied Rationality, on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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In the last decade, many cognitive and social psychology researchers have been inspired by the notion of “embodied cognition” – that cognition is grounded in actual bodily states, and that cognition takes place in the service of action. Consider two examples: (1) when wearing a backpack people perceive hills to be steeper than when not wearing one; (2) when holding a cup containing a hot drink people rate another person as more warm and friendly than when holding a cup containing a cold drink.

Findings such as these suggest that behavioral law and economics’s emphasis on “irrationality” in decision making could benefit by considering work in embodied cognition. Accordingly, this paper exploits recent research and theory on embodied cognition to find lessons for behavioral law and economics and theories of rationality.

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You can download the paper for free here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Embodied Cognition Bonanza!,” The Embodied Situation of Metaphors,” Our Metaphorical Situation,” The Situation of Metaphors,” “Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will DebatePart I & Part II” “The Situation of Body Temperature,” Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Unclean Hands,” “The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” Ideology Shaping Situation, or Vice Versa?,” “The Situation of Snacking,” “The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Abstracts, Embodied Cognition | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

The Embodied Cognition Bonanza!

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 4, 2010

I am excited to be back after a two-month stint guest blogging at Concurring Opinions and I thought I’d jump right in on the matter of “embodied cognition.”

Tuesday morning, I opened up the New York Times to find yet another popular article taking up the topic.  While I continue to be happy to see “embodied cognition fever” catching among the nation’s journalists, I worry ever-so-slightly that the rush to bring the fascinating research to the public may ultimately have negative consequences.

I have been interested in embodied cognition for a while and have had students in my Law and Mind Science course read some of the work in the field the last two years I taught the seminar.  That led me to present some of my thoughts about the implications of the work for law last year at the Childress Lecture at St. Louis University Law School.  The associated article, The Body of the Mind: Embodied Cognition, Law, and Justice is set to be published in the near future and, in the interests of trying to be a better user of SSRN, I’ve finally got around to posting a draft here.

The abstract appears below:

Recent research from embodied cognition strongly contests the dualist notion of the mind as distinct and apart from the biological machine of the body—a conception that has powerfully shaped our laws, legal practices, theories, and institutions for centuries.  According to the embodied (or grounded) cognition perspective, the body is involved in the constitution of the mind.  Thus, beyond our conscious awareness, an abstract concept, like trustworthiness, may be primed by sensorimotor experience, like feeling physical warmth.  This Article introduces recent insights from this budding field, discusses some of the potential implications of experiments in embodied cognition for courtroom interactions, and addresses the significant challenges to using this research as a means to reform.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Embodied Situation of Metaphors,” Our Metaphorical Situation,” The Situation of Metaphors,” “Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will DebatePart I & Part II” “The Situation of Body Temperature,” Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Unclean Hands,” “The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” Ideology Shaping Situation, or Vice Versa?,” “The Situation of Snacking,” “The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Abstracts, Embodied Cognition, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

The Embodied Situation of Metaphors

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 22, 2010

In the current issue of  Observer, the magazine of the Association of Psychological Science, Barbara Isanski and Catherine wrote a great article, “The Body of Knowledge” summarizing the growing field of embodied cognition.  Here are some excerpts.

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The cold shoulder. A heavy topic. A heroic white knight. We regularly use concrete, sensory-rich metaphors like these to express abstract ideas and complicated emotions. But a growing body of research is suggesting that these metaphors are more than just colorful literary devices — there may be an underlying neural basis that literally embodies these metaphors. Psychological scientists are giving us more insight into embodied cognition — the notion that the brain circuits responsible for abstract thinking are closely tied to those circuits that analyze and process sensory experiences— and its role in how we think and feel about our world.

APS Fellow and Charter Member Art Glenberg (Arizona State University) says embodiment “provides a counterweight to the prevailing view that cognition is something in the head that is pretty much separate from behavior. We are animals, and so all of our biology and cognition is ultimately directed towards literal action/behavior for survival and reproduction.” And, he adds, “Explicitly recognizing this will help us to develop better theories.”

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

When someone is described as “chilly,” we understand it means “unfriendly” and not that they should put on a sweater. But using low temperature to capture social remoteness is more than just a convention of language. According to a number of studies, there may be a psychological reason for connecting temperature and social relationships.

In a 2008 study, when volunteers were asked to think about a time they felt socially rejected, they described the temperature in the room as being significantly colder than did volunteers who recalled an experience in which they felt socially included, even though the room temperature was actually the same for both groups. In a separate experiment, volunteers played an online version of a ball-tossing game with three other opponents (unbeknownst to the volunteers, they were the sole participants — a computer program controlled the throws). The game was rigged in a way that some of the volunteers never had the ball tossed to them while other volunteers were able to actively participate in the game. After the game, the volunteers were asked to rate the desirability of various foods and beverages. The volunteers who never had a turn in the ball-tossing game (that is, they were excluded) tended to desire soups and hot coffee more than did the volunteers who played a lot in the game. University of Toronto psychological scientists Chen-Bo Zhong and Geoffrey Leonardelli, who conducted these experiments, suggest that the excluded volunteers craved warmer food and drinks because they felt cold (Zhong & Leonardelli, 2008).

The link between social isolation and physical sensations of cold may work in the other direction, too. A study by APS Fellow Gün R. Semin and his Utrecht University colleague Hans IJzerman suggests that temperature can affect how we feel towards others. Volunteers were handed a hot or cold beverage at the start of the experiment and then were asked to think about their relationships with friends and family. The volunteers who had held a warm beverage tended to rate themselves as being closer to the important people in their lives, compared to volunteers who had been given a cold beverage (IJzerman & Semin, 2009).

Cleanliness = Godliness

Just as feeling distant from other people makes us feel cold, feeling immoral makes us feel physically unclean. Shakespeare dramatized this link vividly: Feeling guilty about the murders she had precipitated, Lady Macbeth scrubs her hands as though she literally had blood on them: “Out damn spot, out I say!” Zhong and Katie Liljenquist (Northwestern University) coined the term “the Macbeth effect” to describe people’s increased urge to wash themselves when their morals become threatened — in other words, an attempt to cleanse ourselves of our sins (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006).

A recent study by University of Plymouth psychological scientists Simone Schnall, Jennifer Benton, and Sophie Harvey showed that just thinking about concepts related to cleanliness (words like “washed” and “pure,” for example) can influence moral decisions. When volunteers thought about clean concepts, they considered hypothetical moral transgressions to be more acceptable than did those volunteers who thought about neutral concepts. In a follow-up experiment, volunteers who washed their hands rated a moral dilemma as being less severe than did volunteers who didn’t wash their hands (Schnall, Benton, & Harvey, 2008).

Zhong says that the most surprising finding from the temperature and cleanliness studies “is the reciprocal relationship between physical and psychological experiences that are typically considered independent.” He adds, “Not only that our concrete experience of the physical world (e.g., cleanliness and coldness) can directly impact our conception of higher order, abstract constructs such as morality and social relations, but also that these abstract constructs can alter the way we experience the concrete and physical.”

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You can read the entire article here.  It includes sections summarizing studies suggesting that “colors can be linked to morality,” that “we ‘weigh’ important objects or consider difficult topics to be ‘heavy,'” that “[f]orward movement, weighed down or not, is typically associated with progress or achievement,” that “[w]hen we interact with others, our neural circuitry is engaged in a series of unconscious tasks, including mirroring the other person’s motor movements.”

To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Our Metaphorical Situation,” The Situation of Metaphors,” “Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will DebatePart I & Part II” “The Situation of Body Temperature,” Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Unclean Hands,” “The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” Ideology Shaping Situation, or Vice Versa?,” “The Situation of Snacking,” “The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

 
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