ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2014, Vol. 46 ›› Issue (7): 1032-1042.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.001032

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Theoretical Analysis of the Meaning of Embodiment

YE Haosheng   

  1. (Center for Mind and Brain Science, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510006, China)
  • Received:2013-08-30 Published:2014-07-25 Online:2014-07-25
  • Contact: YE Haosheng


The topic of embodiment has received a great deal of attention and aroused much enthusiasm within cognitive science in general and psychology in particular. The connotation of embodiment refers essentially to the dependency of cognition on agent’s own body. The classical cognitive science committed to the view of disembodied mind. That is, cognition involves algorithmic processes upon symbolic representations. These theories posit no role for body in cognitive processes. They claimed that Mental processes such as perception, memory and thinking et al are independent of bodily structure and functioning. The view of “weak embodiment”argues against disembodiment, and claims that the body should be understood as playing a role in implementing the function of computation and representation that underpins our cognitive capacities. In contrast, the view of “strong embodiment”entirely eschews the computational theory of cognition. It assigns embodiment a degree of significance in the shaping of the character of cognition. From the point of view of strong embodiment, cognitive processes are profoundly reflect the body’s interactions with the world. In contemporary embodied cognitive science, there is a radically different stance that also has roots in diverse branches of cognitive science. It resulted in a great deal of diversity in how to understand the meaning of embodiment. We distinguished the following four views: (i) embodiment is understood as a kind of somatic learning. From this point of view, embodiment and somatic learning are used interchangeably. Both are associated with a kind of bodily experiences from body’s interaction with outside world. (ii) embodiment involves lived experiences coming from a body with a special neurophysiological structure, which means embodiment is a kind of experience from which cognition is made. Different body intends to make different experience, and different experience make, in turn, different cognition. (iii) embodiment is a way of knowing. We need a brain and a body to make sense of the world around us, and to understand the meaning of “chair”or “cat”, then significant differences in forms of embodiment will translate into distinct conceptual metaphors and image schemas which structure our systems of everyday thought. (iv) embodiment means that cognitive processes can not located in a brain alone. The boundary between a cognitive agent and his or her environment should be broken down. Cognition is hybrid processes, it straddle both internal and external operations. In author’s opinion, cognition’s embodiment means that: (i) cognizing agent’s body is a constituent of cognitive processes, and bodily structure and functioning are imprinted on mental processes, which influence our mental processes such as thinking, categorization, attitude, learning and emotion et al. (ii) perception is not the internal reconstruction of the external world. Perception of the environment is the result of the agent’s bodily actions. This kind of actions shape the perception of the agent. (iii) body is the source of meaning. It is the body that makes us into a meaningful world. Therefore, abstract meaning is based on bodily sensor-motor systems. (iv) different bodies intend to dictate different thought. If people use their physical perceptions and bodily experiences to construct cognitive processes, then the differences from our interactions with the environment should in fact make people along different way of thinking. Viewed all together, embodiment is about the consequences on cognition of existing as a human body. We are not “having a body”, we are “existing as a body”. The answers to the meaning of embodiment will have considerable theoretical and practical significance for the community of psychology.

Key words: embodiment, embodied cognition, embodied mind, body, psychology