Experience and Cognition Lab: Mind and Body

| What is the role of bodily experience in structuring the mind? |

To what extent are concepts internalizations of perceptuo-motor interactions with the environment? My research addresses two related questions: how do mental simulations of physical experiences contribute to the instantiation of concepts online, and how does perceptuo-motor experience contribute to conceptual development?

Meaning and motor action

Embodied theories posit that thoughts are perceptuo-motor simulations. Abstract concepts present a challenge for these theories: how can we perceptually simulate things we can never perceive? Novel ‘motor-meaning congruity’ tasks reveal that spatio-motoric schemas are automatically activated during even shallow, incidental processing of abstract words and pictures.

Neural correlates of spatio-motor schemas

What is the nature of these spatio-motor representations? Motor-meaning congruity experiments manipulating the visual hemifield of stimuli investigate the extent to which spatio-motor representations that partly constitute abstract word meanings are lateralized in the right hemisphere, consistent with the proposal that these representations are imagistic simulations of prior perceptuo-motor experience, or lateralized in the left hemisphere, as expected if these representations arise at least in part due to experience using language.

Motor experience and concept formation: The Body-Specificity Hypothesis

Body-Specificity: If concepts are constituted, in part, by mental simulations of our own perceptuo-motor experiences, then people with different bodies, who interact with the environment in systematically different ways, should develop systematically different concepts. Motor-meaning congruity experiments testing this hypothesis compared right- and left-handed participants and showed that manual action concepts (e.g., grasping, poking, tickling) comprise hand-specific spatio-motor representations. Further experiments show that even highly abstract concepts with positive and negative valence differ between righties and lefties – people with different bodies think differently!


Mind and Body | Daniel Casasanto