I can’t believe it’s not synaesthesia! – embodied cognition

Yes indeed, this is a fascinating article from New Scientist magazine. This is the article that made me feel incredulous the first time that I read it last year, that the word “synaesthesia” was not even once mentioned in it, because it seemed to be an article about a number of different types of synaesthesia. I could go into details about why I believe this, but I’d risk restating most of the text of this two-page article. Basically, this is an article about embodied cognition. It is clear to me that the researchers studying embodied cognition have a lot to gain from sharing ideas with synaesthesia researchers (and synaesthetes), and vice versa.

A study by Australian academic Tobias Loetscher that was published in the journal Current Biology and another study by Daniel Casasanto, an academic in the Netherlands, which was published in the journal Cognition are discussed in this article. The “metaphor theory” of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson is discussed. Much of this article seems to be very relevant to the idea proposed by some synaesthesia researchers that synaesthesia is the origin of metaphorical language. Wouldn’t synaesthesia or some very similar mental process be the link between study subjects’ emotional feelings of being socially isolated and their reported physical sensations of feeling physically colder?

Other parts of this article seem to be very relevant to, or a description of, number form synaesthesia and other mental mappings of concepts onto “spatial schema”. The study by Casasanto is about a psychological process that is very similar to the forward and backward vection that was the subject of the study in PLoS ONE that I discussed in a previous blog posting, in that it shows an influence on abstract thought from performing a physical task that focused the mind on one or other spatial directions. The vection study that I previously discussed was about backward and forward motion influencing abstract thought. The Casasanto study was about moving something upwards and moving something downwards influencing abstract thought.

Many of the more general conclusions in this article, based on the study findings, also seemed to be very relevant to my experiences of fine motor performances determining the content of my thoughts, often involving links with conceptual thinking, by a process that I believe is synaesthesia. “The results also led to a deeper question: does physical movement have the power to change not just the speed at which people talk, but also what they choose to talk – or even think – about?” A study by Casasanto found this to be true. “Isn’t that somewhat scary?” Casasanto asked. Yes, I think it is scary, but it is only by being aware of the irrational and arbitrary things that can influence cognition that we can ever hope to detect, control and transcend such influences.

Ananthaswamy, Anil Let your body do the thinking. New Scientist. Number 2753 March 27th 2010 p.8-9.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20527535.100-mind-over-matter-how-your-body-does-your-thinking.html

Two articles about embodied cognition from Miller-McCune:

Jacobs, Tom To feel good, reach for the sky. Miller-McCune. February 4th 2010. http://www.miller-mccune.com/health/to-feel-good-reach-for-the-sky-8445/

Hilo, Jessica Power poses really work. Miller-McCune. November 15th 2010. http://www.miller-mccune.com/culture-society/power-poses-really-work-25322/

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