Grounded cognition a fairly new theory in cognitive psychology that has been the subject of much research and discussion just these past 10-15 years. Grounded cognition is the understanding that that cognition is not merely a computational process in the brain in a central module separate from the parts the parts of the brain used for perception, action and emotion, but is, in fact, grounded in those systems and grows out of them.
We understand and think not with discrete mental abstracts, but with imagery and modal schemas formed from experiences we have had through our bodies and senses. Underlying our advanced thought and calculations is this grounding of experiences, perceptions, senses, environment and past actions.
It removes the separation between thinking and doing; perception-action and brain-body-environment links are the underpinnings of thought. Our brain is not the only means by which we process and understand.
We can see the effects of these experiential and sensory-motor underpinnings in how we use language and metaphor. Recent studies have found out things like we respond faster to embodied insults (ugly, blockhead) than to less bodily specific ones (nitwit, stingy), and that when we hear motion language, we imagine seeing motion and mentally prepare for it.
The way we use language shows this, as we use concrete metaphors to describe abstract concepts - sad is "feeling down", excitement is a "high", a baby is so cute we "could just eat him up!"
Grounded cognition explains how cognition/thinking continues whether the body is doing anything at that time or not by using mental imagery, modal systems and neurological connections formed from sensory-motor experiences.
It describes the way that cognition expresses itself from these experiences several ways, including simulation, situated action, and sometimes bodily states.
Criticism often come from the mistaken belief that grounded cognition mean we must constantly be doing something bodily in order to think. While a bodily state in an environment can be a means of processing, current physical engagement is not necessary. Simulation is reenactment of states captured while doing - we have tied many pairs of shoes, and we use those past experiences to relate to new shoes.
This relates to how people can understand things from books , for instance; we relate the information in them to past perceptions, experiences, sensations and actions. Situated action is the belief that cognition developed to support action in specific situations from the interaction between multiple subsystems.
All the different means of experience and perception that have been experienced in the past can combine to help one figure out what to do in a new situation.
While much prescientific writing about thought included the idea that knowledge comes from mental images grown from experiences (similar to the simulation view), in the early 20th century these beliefs were attacked by behaviorists for not being scientific enough. When cognitive psychology rose in the mid 20th century to address weaknesses in pure behaviorism, those theorists avoided or derided the idea that imagery was important in cognition.
However, there has been enough evidence in recent research across disciplines from cognition and neuroscience to linguistics, that it now must be taken seriously.
Although some sources describe grounded and embodied cognition as synonyms, very recent papers on the two are working to clarify how they are distinctive from each other.
According to Dr. Andrew Wilson, Grounded cognition is still about mental representations, just ones that are shaped by the body. The key move is the grounding, shaping internal content with external, modality specific factors.
Embodied cognition replaces representations with our activity in a richly perceived world. The key move is the embodiment, emphasizing the role of the body and it's place in the environment in creating cognition.
So far, much of the research on grounded cognition has been concrete in nature. Researchers are being challenged to explain how mental imagery grounded in experiences can explain abstract ideas.
There is ongoing debate of how grounded cognition can account for ideas that do not have a sensory-motor context.
There is much ongoing research and discussion between theorists in this new, active and increasingly influential branch of cognitive theory.
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