EMBODY Research Group members are contributing to the Cognitive Science Society 2023 Meeting with 1 symposium and 3 posters. To attend any of these events, register directly on CogSci’s page.

1) Symposium: Embodied Cognition in Context

CogSci 2023 Symposium

Symposium Overview:

That cognition is embodied is a claim that virtually no cognitive scientist today will deny: after all, even the researcher who models cognition in terms of entirely abstract, “medium-independent” states and processes will concede that particular instances are always necessarily realized in some body (of some kind) or other. The same is true for the theme of this year’s CogSci meeting, “Cognition in Context”: even if you think that there are cases in which the context plays merely a peripheral role in cognitive processing, you cannot deny that cognition always occurs in some context or other.

This symposium is motivated by the realization, on the hand, that the concept of embodiment means different things to different researchers in different contexts (see, e.g., Wilson 2002; Chemero 2009; Wilson and Golonka 2013), just as, on the other hand, the concept of context means different things to different researchers with different views on body and mind (see, e.g., Clancey 1997; Mesquita, Barrett and Smith 2010; Ibáñez and García 2018).

The four talks in this symposium illustrate the diversity that cutting-edge work on embodied cognition in context can have, including diversity in terms of theoretical background, methodological commitments (e.g., qualitative and quantitative approaches), and disciplinary orientation. Speakers of different career stages and career paths will present research emphasizing embodiment in context in two different but complementary senses of ‘context’. The first sense applies to the phenomena under investigation, and concerns the role that the context plays in cognition given the speakers’ particular interpretations of what it means for cognition to be an embodied phenomenon. The second sense applies to the context of research and researcher. In this sense, speakers will reflect on how their own context (e.g. varied expertise, social situatedness) contributes to their understanding of embodied cognition; and, conversely, they will also consider ways in which their particular understanding of embodied cognition in context can be applied to shed light on scientific practice and the cognitive processes at play when humans engage in scientific research.

Speakers and Talks:

Dr. Guilherme Sanches de Oliveira (symposium organizier) is a postdoctoral fellow and assistant lecturer in the Department of Biological Psychology and Neuroergonomics at the Technische Universität Berlin, in Germany, where he leads the interdisciplinary EMBODY Research Group.

Title: Ecological Psychology and Cognition in Context: Theoretical Foundations and Meta-Theoretical Implications
Abstract: The ecological approach to visual perception (Gibson 1979) is, both directly and indirectly, one of the main influences behind contemporary work on embodied cognition (Clark 2001, Gallagher 2017). But it is often misunderstood, by advocates and critics alike, as being only that, a theory of perception, and, crucially, one that needs to be supplemented with a theory of cognition. Countering this common view, this talk identifies reasons for seeing the ecological approach to perception as already a theory of cognition. Key here is the concept of “education of attention,” less well known than that of “affordances” but arguably more fundamental than it. As I propose, the ecological view of the education of attention amounts to a proper theory of cognition as embodied and in context. I conclude by outlining implications for how the ecological perspective can fit in the context of contemporary cognitive science, emphasizing (i) the prospect of integration with seemingly competing computational approaches, and (ii) the untapped potential for guiding research on science education and on expert performance in scientific explanation and understanding.

Dr. Nick Brancazio has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Wollongong, in Australia, and now works as an independent researcher and consultant for non-profit organizations.

Title: Taking Context from Transaction to Interaction
Abstract: The theme of this year’s meeting shows that we hold context to be important for understanding cognition, no matter what cognitive framework one prefers. In this talk, I’ll discuss some concerns that methodological individualism holds us back from understanding the ways that context is involved in cognition. Following Longino (2020), I argue this is a widespread problem that needs to be addressed through ontological pluralism. I’ll provide some examples of interactive agential dynamics from coordination models (Kelso 2021) and active matter systems (Ramaswamy 2017) that show how interaction provides a productive ontological framing for questions about how context shapes cognition. I’ll then discuss some implications for interpersonal dynamics.

Dr. Joanna Raczaszek-Leonardi is professor in the Cognitive Psychology and Neurocognition Unit at the University of Warsaw, in Poland, where she leads the Human Interactivity and Language Lab.

Title: Cognition in the fields of values
Abstract: The notion of “context” is a tricky one for a truly embodied cognitive science. One can talk about a context (of a cognitive process or act) only when one can identify the “thing” (process or act) as distinct from the context it’s immersed in. But if we agree that context actually has a constitutive role for “things,” a paradox arises: the same stuff is considered to be a part of a phenomenon and its context. In this talk I will show that resigning from the view of a contentful representational mind and, instead, following William James (e.g., 1912) in favouring the processes of selection as main cognitive processes, may perhaps alleviate this paradox. However, such a theoretical move puts in the centre the question of choosing from among alternative organizations of a perceptual field. Recent attempts in returning to the Gibsonian call for the “psychology of values” (Hodges & R ̨aczaszek-Leonardi, 2022) provide reflection on values as boundary conditions, which may shed light on these choices. I will illustrate these theoretical notions with empirical research in developmental psychology and movement sciences, where the value-realizing framework gives an alternative look at “context” shaping individual behavior and properties of interactions. The same framework is helpful for recognizing how the students of cognitive sciences (that is, we all) move in their research (Reddy, 2023), inherently inviting values realized in our daily and professional activities into shaping our objects of study and conceptual networks we use to capture them.

Dr. Rachel Kallen is associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.
Dr. Michael Richardson is professor in the Department of Psychology at Macquarie University and the director of the Centre for Elite Performance Expertise and Training (CEPET) in Sydney, Australia.

Title: Symmetries of Behavior in Social Performance Contexts
Abstract: Many everyday behaviours are accomplished in social contexts and require that individuals coordinate their actions and behaviours with those around. Such interactions are remarkably diverse, ranging from individuals avoiding one another on a crowded sidewalk, to more sophisticated turn-taking during conversation and the highly complex behaviours required of musical ensembles or sports teams. A major challenge to understanding these phenomena is identifying the principles that define what patterns of behavioural coordination are possible or most likely to occur within a given context. Here, we briefly detail how the theoretical and formal principles of symmetry and symmetry-breaking provide a generalizable, yet context sensitive language for understanding and explaining the behavioural order of individual and social performance systems. To do so, we canvass examples of symmetry and symmetry-breaking, ranging from lower-order interpersonal synchrony to higher-order intergroup relations, and illustrate how these principles can account for the patterning of social performance across multiple contexts and levels of analysis.

2) Poster + paper: Reading Comprehension as Embodied Action: Exploratory Findings on Nonlinear Eye Movement Dynamics and Comprehension of Scientific Texts

Moritz Bammel (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) & Gui Sanches de Oliveira (Technische Universität Berlin)

Abstract: Reading comprehension is often conceptualized in terms of the internal processing of linguistic information and construction of accurate mental representations. In contrast, an ecological-enactive approach rejects this internalist focus and instead emphasizes the dynamic process of reader-text coupling in which eye movements play a constitutive role. In this study, we employed recurrence quantification analysis (RQA) to examine the relationship between reading comprehension and eye movement dynamics, based on eye-tracking data from the Potsdam Textbook Corpus recorded from beginners and experts reading scientific texts, followed by comprehension questionnaires. Moreover, we compared the findings from RQA to classical eye movement measures (number of fixations, mean fixation duration, regression fixation proportion). The results indicated that classical eye movement measures did not predict reading comprehension reliably, whereas recurrences in gaze steps were reliably associated with reading comprehension proficiency. Contrary to our original hypothesis, experts showed more irregular, rather than more regular, eye movement dynamics, and these were linked to more proficient reading comprehension. In line with previous research on naturalistic reading using nonlinear methods, the present findings suggest that reading comprehension is best understood as emerging from interaction-dominant coordination processes.

To view the poster, click here: coming soon. The full proceedings paper is available here: coming soon.

3) Poster + abstract: How WEIRD is Cognitive Science?

Authors: Gui Sanches de Oliveira (Technische Universität Berlin) & Ed Baggs (University of Southern Denmark)

Abstract: Over the last decade, cognitive science and allied fields have been criticized for being excessively “WEIRD,” i.e., overly reliant on participants from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic societies. The lack of diversity among research participants is now widely acknowledged, but it’s a rather superficial problem, symptomatic of other more fundamental ones. This poster outlines what we see as four overlapping problems. Cognitive science is WEIRD not only in terms of who makes up its participant pool, but also in terms of its theoretical commitments (e.g., individualism and universalism), methodological assumptions (e.g., measurement and analysis methods), and institutional structures (e.g., funding and publishing). Merely solving the problem of WEIRD participants by sampling more widely is insufficient to address cognitive science’s more fundamental WEIRD theoretical, methodological and institutional problems. Coming to terms with this is necessary if we wish to make cognitive science relevant for all humanity.

To view the poster, click here: coming soon.

4) Poster + abstract: Perception-Action Coupling and the Dynamicist/Computationalist Divide

Authors: Bilal Arafaat, Gui Sanches de Oliveira & Klaus Gramann (Technische Universität Berlin)

Abstract: A common claim by advocates of embodied, dynamical approaches is that action and perception are “coupled.” On the face of it, this claim may not seem controversial, after all many researchers working in mainstream computationalist neuroscientific approaches also talk about the “coupling” of perception and action. Our goal here is to clarify the relation between these claims of perception-action coupling stemming from dynamical and from computational perspectives. Examining the empirical evidence that computationalists and dynamicists invoke to support their claims we conclude that, despite using similar terminology, they mean entirely different and incompatible things. Still, we propose that both approaches can, at least to some extent, accommodate the evidence invoked by the other. This suggests that the evidence should not, on its own, be used to argue in favor of one approach against the other, and that the disagreement is of a philosophical nature rather than an empirical one.

To view the poster, click here: coming soon.