Wilson, M. (2002). Six views of embodied cognition. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 9(4), 625-636. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/BF03196322.


Since the dawn of psychology, the prevalent idea has been that the mind is separate from the body, and that if scientists can recreate the mind, humanity can recreate humans. Recent emerging schools of thought, coupled with new research, however, suggest that might not be the case. There is ever-growing steam in the field of embodied cognition- or the idea that the body’s experiences influences the mind, and creates some very important aspects of the mind, particularly in regard to emotion.

Key Points: 

There are six claims made by proponents of embodied cognition, some of which have merit, and some of which need more research to be founded:

  1. “Cognition is situated” This means that cognition is situated within outside contexts. Contexts that are task-dependent, and dependent on bodily input and outputs. Examples include driving, rearranging furniture, or participating in conversation while walking. While there are also some cognitive activities that do not rely on outside input/output (memories, planning, imagining circumstances), it can be said that perhaps the foundation of cognition is rooted in early human’s ability to think and plan in tune with the environment.
  2. “Cognition is time-pressured” Cognition occurs in real-time, with real-events on a time line, such as getting away from a predator in time, or surveying upcoming terrain, and choosing how to move the body while running.
  3. “We off-load cognitive work onto the environment” That is to say, that humans will sometimes use the environment in order to avoid using cognition to complete tasks. However this point may only be limited to spatial and representational tasks, not all cognitive tasks.
  4. “The environment is part of the cognitive system” Cognition is spread across the mind, body, and environment. Forces that drive cognition are not based in the mind, but are a culmination of what goes on in a system.
  5. “Cognition is for action” Cognition and memory are created for use with the real, physical world. However, there are some examples that negate this claim (recognizing faces, appreciating a sunset).
  6. “Offline cognition is body based” Mental imagery, working memory, episodic memory, reasoning and problem solving and implicit memory, and how they work better or worse depending on bodily movements during tasks are all examples of how offline cognition is body based.

Design principles: 

Embodied cognition should be used in learning design, as it has been shown that cognition is rooted in the mind, space and body. If educators and learning designers can use this theory to create programs and curriculums, students should be able to learn complicated concepts, especially in fields where spatial thinking is important such as mathematics, engineering and hard sciences.

Example work:

Over the past several decades, many experiments have been conducted in order to prove the theory of embodied cognition. In one such study, researchers asked participants to view gender-neutral faces while squeezing a ball. If the ball was soft, people perceived the faces to be female, if the ball was hard, people perceived the faces to be male. This shows how physical experiences shape the mind.

Discussion Questions

  1. What further research would need to be done to either confirm or discount the claim that “the environment is part of the cognitive system?”
  2. How can embodied cognition be used in curriculum design in order to promote learning? What subjects would the use of embodied cognition-based curriculum be most effective?
  3. What are some ways a person can strengthen their ability to think in an embodied manner?’

Additional Resources:

  • Booth, W.C. (1983). Metaphors We Live By. George Lakoff, Mark Johnson. Ethics, 93(3), 619-621.
  • THUNK. (2018 Feb 10). 137. Embodied Cognition. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDw_1UyNTKI.


 Slepian, M. L., Weisbuch, M., Rule, N. O., & Ambady, N. (2010). Tough and Tender. Psychological Science,22(1), 26-28. Retrieved from http://ambadylab.stanford.edu/pubs/2011_Slepian-et-al_ToughandTender.pdf




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