What is Embodied Social Cognition?

What is social cognition?

Social cognition is a branch or sub-topic of psychology concerned with the cognitive processes involved in social interactions. Put another way, social cognition is the area of psychology which deals with how people receive, interpret, store, and use information about other people, their social groups, and how they interact with others.

Social cognition is an extremely interesting subject. It seeks to delve deeper into social psychology in order to understand the actual cognitive processes which underpin social psychological phenomenon. Most of the research in social cognition focuses on how people perceive, judge and process social stimuli, as well as how social contexts influence cognitive processes.

To see the full consequences of social cognitive processes, you only need to think of crowd psychology and crowd behavior; when people are placed in different social contexts, say within a large group, the way they process information and make decisions changes dramatically.


What is embodied cognition?

The concept of embodied cognition is not too dissimilar to social cognition. Just as social cognition understands that our cognitive processes are heavily influenced by our social contexts and interactions, embodied cognition maintains that our motor system influences our cognition.

This might sound a little odd at first, but most people already understand the concept and accept it on an intuitive level.

For example, we intuitively know that physical processes can help us remember things mentally; physical actions can trigger memories. If you’ve ever employed hand movements to learn something, or you’ve found that objects can trigger memories, then you already intuitively understand that our physical reality can influence our cognitive processes.

But research in embodied cognition has found that the link between our physical body, our motor system, and our brain is much stronger than many people assume (and stronger than many are willing to accept).

For example, George Lakoff and his fellow researchers have found evidence that people lean on their understandings of familiar spaces and physical objects to understand more complex concepts such as mathematics, or even death. Specifically, Lakoff and Johnson found that humans make ubiquitous use of metaphor, mapping one concept onto another. A common for of mapping is taking familiar physical concepts and mapping them onto higher-order concepts; an example they use is the way people try to understand relationships by using the metaphor of a physical journey.

More basically, embodied cognition research has found that doing simple motor tasks can alter our cognitive function. A classic example that is used is the pencil experiment; experimenters found that placing a pencil in peoples’ mouths and getting them to engage a smile made them significantly faster at comprehending positive statements than negative statements. Then, when people were told to hold the pencil between the nose and top lip and forced to engage frowning muscles, the reverse happened; they could comprehend negative statements faster than positive ones.


What is embodied social cognition?

Embodied social cognition, as you might have guessed, is a fusing of the above two concepts. Throughout this site, you’ll find more information on embodied social cognition.