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How physical cues associated with touch may sway thoughts and behavior

coffee_cup_122310.jpg

Previous research suggests that textures, shapes, weights and temperatures could influence a person's judgments, perceptions or feelings. But how can seemingly trivial environmental factors, such as holding a warm cup of coffee, affect high-level psychological processes?

An article published today in the Scientific American offers an in-depth look at how the mind uses the body to make sense of abstract ideas and how this area of research could have important implications for education:

As far-fetched as such sensory non sequiturs may seem, the evidence for "embodied" or "grounded" cognition is persuasive. "The empirical case is becoming increasingly overwhelming," says psychologist Lawrence Barsalou of Emory University. "Cognition is emerging, to a significant extent, from all these things-like warmth, cleanliness and weight-that we used to think were irrelevant to cognition."

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Such bizarre interactions imply that our brains do not really differentiate between our physical interface with the environment and high-level, abstract thought. The idea that the mind is anchored to the body’s actions and surroundings "gives us a much better way of trying to understand how people work-our social behavior, our emotional lives, our cognitive lives," says psychologist Arthur Glenberg of Arizona State University. Indeed, armed with this new conception of how thought works, we can now get a grasp of our own feelings, opinions and actions by looking beyond our minds to our bodies and the world around us. Such a perspective can point us toward actions that change the way we think and learn.

Photo by Mark Heard

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