...if perception-action couplings and resources distributed over brain, body, and environment are substantial participants in cognition, then the need for the specific objects and processes of standard cognitive psychology (concepts, internally represented competence, and knowledge) goes away...We argue that this is compulsory; as soon as you allow the perceived environment to play any kind of critical role in cognition, it's game on for what Shapiro calls 'replacement style' embodied cognition. This is why we don't think that we're just at one extreme end of a continuum of embodiment research; we think the rest of the field is making a category mistake. Chapter 2 of Chemero (2009) does an excellent job of laying out the history here; representations come from the structuralist school of thought, embodiment from the functionalist school. They are, quite literally, two different kinds of approach and mixing them is just an error.
I need to talk about this other stuff, though, and I'm tired of calling it 'not embodied cognition'. For one thing, the critical tone gets in the way of the argument. Shapiro calls it 'the conceptualisation hypothesis' and while this is basically accurate, it's a slightly non-intuitive technical term I'd have to explain all the time. So I want to be slightly cheeky and rename that other work, while picking a name they will hopefully not mind. This work, I think, is really grounded cognition (as per Barsalou, 2008) and that's how I'll talk about it from here on in.
Here's the rationale: the major problems with representations, embodied or otherwise, has always been how they get their content. Representations have to take input and use an internal, mental simulation of the relevant part of the world drive behaviour in response to that input. If this is to succeed, then the simulation has to be accurate along the relevant dimensions. In other words, the content of the representation has to be connected to the world somehow; it has to be grounded.
Most of the 'not embodied cognition' work we talk about assumes that representations still do all the work of causing behaviour, but with the sexy twist that the grounding problem is solved by using states of the body to shape and constrain the contents of the representation. So I'm hoping that it's not controversial to refer to this work as grounded cognition. In fact, this term has been regularly applied to this kind of work (Borghi et al 2013) note that a distinction between grounding and embodiment is becoming more common).
I really want to emphasise it, though, to bring the key distinction back to light:
- 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, emphasising the role of the body and it's place in the environment in creating cognition.
Barsalou, L. (2008). Grounded cognition. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 617-645. Download
Borghi, A. M., Scorolli, C., Caligiore, D., Baldassarre, G., & Tummolini, L (2013). The embodied mind extended: using words as social tools. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, DOI 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00214
Wilson, A., & Golonka, S. (2013). Embodied Cognition Is Not What you Think It Is. Frontiers in Psychology, 4 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00058