ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 51 ›› Issue (11): 1270-1280.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2019.01270

• Theory and History of Psychology • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Enactive cognition: Theoretical rationale and practical approach

YE Haosheng,ZENG Hong(),YANG Wendeng()   

  1. Center for Mind and Brain Science, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510006, China
  • Received:2019-02-12 Published:2019-11-25 Online:2019-09-24
  • Contact: Hong ZENG,Wendeng YANG;


There are different theoretical views in the embodied cognition camp, and there is sometimes even conflict among them. Enactive cognition is a new version of recently developed embodied cognition approaches. It claims that the explanation of human cognitive processes across the board should not make any appeal to internal representational or computational states. According to the traditional computation-representation theory of mind, cognitive processes are mechanistically realized in computational processes of building, storing and manipulating detached and abstract internal representations. This cognitivist paradigm has dominated mainstream cognitive psychology for decades. The key assumptions that characterize this representation- centered theory of mind are including that cognition might be understood as computation over mental representations, and that models of cognition should take into account only the inner states of a cognitive individual. But recently this framework has been challenged and criticized. Out of this challenge and criticism emerged the beginnings to an enactive cognition paradigm. The enactive approach to cognitive science proposed a new set of theoretical assumptions for understanding what cognition is and how it works that aims to break the tight conceptual connection between cognition and representation. It takes as its starting point that cognition must not be understood as a capacity for getting an internal representation of a corresponding external reality, which in turn would provide a foundation for supporting thinking, learning, and problem solving. Instead, cognitive processes are deeply entangled in action. Cognition is thus best understood as “enactive”; that is, as a form of practice itself. From the point view of enactive cognition, cognition comes from bodily action and serves bodily action, that is, cognition is embodied action. The key postulate of enactive Cognition is action-related and action-oriented, with the capacity to generate environmental structure by action. Cognition is thus best understood as “enactive”; that is, as embedded action it comes from bodily action and serves bodily action. At the same time, advocates of enactivism state that despite the emphasis on the function of the organism’s action of the mind, the model cannot be equated with behaviorism; action, in contrast to behavior, is purposeful and has a cognitive component. Key aspects of enactive cognition are: (1) perception consists in perceptually guided action and (2) cognitive structures emerge from the recurrent sensorimotor patterns that allow action to be perceptually guided. There are three enactive theories in cognitive science. Autopoietic enactivism emphasizes the deep continuity between life and mind; sensorimotor enactivism focuses on analyzing perceptual consciousness in terms of sensorimotor contingency, and radical enactivism focuses on rejecting representationalism in favour of explanatory strategies that emphasize patterns of embodied interaction. These perspectives on enactive cognition are more informed by phenomenology and pragmatism than were earlier versions of embodied cognition. Therefore, we can say that phenomenology and pragmatism constitute the theoretical origin of enactive cognition. The enactive cognition view is not only theoretically viable, but also supported by substantial experimental evidence demonstrating that cognitive processes can be reinterpreted using this new conceptual framework. The theoretical premises of enactive cognition open up new prospects for improving theoretical research and the practical application of cognitive science in the future.

Key words: enactive cognition, embodied cognition, embodied action, body phenomenology, pragmatism

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