ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (11): 2497-2506.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.02497

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Embodied memory and its intrinsic mechanism

JIN Yuwei, SUN Xiao, SONG Yaowu()   

  1. School of Education, Hebei University, Baoding 071002, China
  • Received:2021-09-08 Online:2022-11-15 Published:2022-11-09
  • Contact: SONG Yaowu


With the development of embodiment, it is widely recognized that the body may be the key to shaping advanced cognitive functions (e.g., memory). The research of embodied memory aims at exploring the role of the body and its sensorimotor process in memory. The manipulation or restriction of the physical state, embodied characteristics or availability of the body would affect the efficiency, valence and content of memory. The intrinsic mechanisms can be explained by several assumptions, including the encoding specificity principle, the priming effect, the metaphor representation theory and the reactivation hypothesis. However, there is still no a consensus on the mechanisms.

This review focuses on the commonalities of existing research and theories, and aims to explain the mechanism by which the body acts on memory under one framework. There are three steps in the current work. Firstly, four experimental paradigms based on the experimental operations of the embodied memory research are summarized: (a) The simulation paradigm, which simulates the initial state by adopting body postures consistent with the encoding stage to influence memory retrieval. (b) The priming paradigm, which influences memory retrieval by priming the social meaning of body postures or facial expressions. (c) The metaphorical paradigm, which impacts the efficiency and content of memory retrieval by activating the emotional valence of vertical spatial movement (e.g., good is up, bad is down). (d)The reverse validation paradigm, in which the embodied effect disappears by performing interfering gestures in the encoding or retrieval stage to hinder the mental simulation. Then, based on the way that embodied operations act on memory and the perspective of theoretical explanation, it is found that the core of embodied memory lies in reactivation. Therefore, on the basis of the sensory-motor simulation model of embodied cognition, a sensorimotor simulation model of embodied memory, which emphasizes the role of reactivation and explains the psychological process of embodied operation on memory, is proposed. Specifically, an individual can manipulate the availability and physical state of his or her body to act on the encoding and extraction stages, respectively, or manipulate the embodied characteristics of the body to act on the extraction stage alone. Thus, the extraction stage can reactivate the perceptual and motor information of the encoding process, which facilitates the extraction of information. It is worth noting that this reactivation has several constraints: The first is the memory task. Task specificity will affect the degree to which the embodied operation activates the memory. The more specific the task is, the lower level of embodied activation in memory is. The second is the embodied operation. Compared with the simple, automatic, routine, and lower cognitive resource-requiring embodied operations, complex, intentional, unfamiliar, and higher cognitive operations have less impact on memory. The last one is the way of recall. In contrast to general recall, the more specific the recall task is, the lower the impact of embodied activation in memory is.

More multi-dimensional theoretical and applied work is encouraged to explore the stability and underlying mechanisms of embodied memory. Specifically, it is necessary to strictly control the parataxis with the original experiment (i.e., adding embodied variables is to activate a certain psychological state in the original encoding and thus affect the memory results), rather than hypotaxis (i.e., adding physical variables is enough to explore the relationship between body and memory) to conduct repetitive research to improve the reliability of results. In addition to that, transforming the three-dimensional direct activation of one’s own embodied operations into a two-dimensional indirect activation of others’ behaviors by mirror neurons can explore the impact of the body on memory under the “quiet” condition. Finally, future research can also control the valence and content of memory by manipulating the different sensorimotor patterns of the body. This effort may indirectly adjust the individual’s cognition and emotion, which in turn affect his/her behavior.

Key words: memory, body, embodied cognition, the sensorimotor simulation model, the encoding specificity principle

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