Monday, November 12, 2012

Four Applications of Embodied Cognition

Four Applications of Embodied Cognition
Article: Davis, J. I. (2012). Four Applications of Embodied Cognition. Topics in Cognitive Science, 4(4), 786–793.

This article discusses the concepts of embodied cognition from four view points by seven different authors. These viewpoints discuss embodied cognition (how the body and environment shape the mind) and its relation to or influence on our understanding of the legal system, art and literature, architecture and music cognition. For this blog post I will discuss 2 of these views: 1) Literature and Art and 2) Music Cognition. While the first view does not have to do with music, it provides some interesting points in regard to literature and art.

1) Embodiment In Literature and Visual Art - by Ellen Esrock

Esrock discusses how reading and viewing has traditionally been seen as "fundamentally non-bodily". She discusses how recent scholarship on embodied cognition now considers how the body is involved in the acts of reading and viewing art. Esrock starts the article with a great example of how we might have a "bodily response" to what we read or view. For example, when reading about a streamstress' hand sewing, we may "feel" physical tension in our hands. Or when viewing a piece of art depicting a woman embroidering, we may "feel' the fabric or the needle moving through the fabric. Esrock says that this experience of feeling what we read or view is called "transomatization", as sort of "bodily immersion" into the text or piece of art. It's as if we mimic what we read or view.

Esrock goes on to discuss how embodied cognition looks at emotions as "bodily". She says that current studies are looking at empathy in literature and art - how it is that we can be have an emotional response when reading about or viewing a depiction of an emotional moment. Esrock goes on to say that literary and visual studies of embodied cognition, which examine areas of "human throughout, emotion and behaviour", may be helpful to other disciplines. She concludes by saying that teaching "embodied" subjects how to read and view literature/art may help them develop "cognitive and affective skills in other areas of life".

2) Embodied Music Cognition - by Leon van Noorden and Marc Leman

Noorden and Leman start their article by saying that "embodied music cognition sees music experience as based on perception and action". They discuss the idea that movement and music are intertwined and that in many cultures music and dance are not considered separate arts. The authors discuss that it is through movement that people may find meaning in music. This contrasts with traditional approaches to music cognition, which look at musical meaning from a "disembodied" approach - one that is only based on perception with little consideration of how the mind, body and environment are interconnected. Noorden and Leman say that ongoing research is now interested in how the human body is implicated in the creation of meaning in music. They go on to discuss a few interesting examples of this.

Noorden and Leman mention that embodied music cognition may help us understand how music impacts social interactions. They discuss recent studies that showed that children move more synchronously with music when they dance in a group, as opposed to when they dance individually. They also discuss the phenomenon of "resonant perception-action coupling", which occurs around the tempo frequency of 2 Hz (120 bpm). Studies have observed how resonance around 2 Hz causes changes in walking. Studies have also shown that children around 3 - 4 years of age can only synchronize with music when it is played at around 2 Hz. Other studies have also shown that 2Hz is best frequency for rocking babies to sleep. Interestingly, Noorden and Leman explain that by 5 years of age and older, children start to synchronize at more varied (faster and slower) tempi than 2 Hz. The authors state that it is as if "the older children learn to put brakes on the resonator".

Noorden and Leman also discuss how technology has made use of the concept of embodied music cognition. They discuss how the program DJogger, used on personal music players, offers digital music that matches the tempo of one's walking or running. The assumption is that synchronizing one's walking or running to music is motivating and stimulating (perhaps this synchronizing induces a sense of flow when running or walking, making it easier to coordinate movements or continue the activity for a longer period of time?). Noorden and Leman mention another example of technology using the concept of embodied cognition. The Sync-in Team game uses synchronization and entrainment in a "social music interaction game". They don't elaborate on this point, but they do say that programs such as these were shown to create a sense of "presence and flow".

Noorden and Leman conclude their article by commenting on how embodied music cognition may change our understanding of music and meaning. Instead of the traditional approach of focussing on how meaning is derived from a "perception-based" analysis of musical content, embodied music cognition looks at how musical meaning is formed through perception and action. For example, many people move when they hear music - this is a way in which we derive meaning in music. Noorden and Leman conclude their article by saying that embodied music cognition may impact how we understand social cognition, by using "concepts of movement and emotion synchronicity or entrainment".


I thought these two articles were a good introduction to the concept of embodied cognition. I thought the idea that we "feel" what we read or view to be very interesting. I can't say I have every felt powerful emotions when reading or viewing art, but I can definitely say I have been moved to tears many times when viewing films; however, I think a large part of this may be due to the music that accompanies the visuals in film. It would be interesting to re-watch a film I have had an emotional response to before, but without the music. I wonder if I would have the same reaction, or if it is music that is mostly responsible for my emotional response.

In the second article, I found the idea that we can find meaning in music through movement to be quite interesting. I find that I have a preference for music that has a "groove" to it. Sometimes it feels as though I cannot help but bob my head or feel like I'm almost part of the music. I feel this even more-so when I actually play music with a groove. I suppose this has to do with the concept of entrainment and synchronicity, where that sense of "flow" or "presence" occurs. Nooden and Leman mention how programs like Djogger create this sense of "presence and flow". I think the idea of jogging to music that matches your speed is a great idea. I certainly have a very hard time jogging to music when I'm not matching it's beat. I wonder if this is my musician brain reacting or if we all have a natural impulse to synchronize with a beat (?).

Overall, I thought these articles were interesting overviews of the concept of embodied cognition. However, I thought there were some ideas that both articles could have elaborated on. One concept I would have liked to know more about is the Sync-in Team game and exactly how it uses entrainment in a "social music interaction game". I also would have appreciated more background on how embodied music cognition can help us understand social cognition.

Can anyone share any knowledge or thoughts on this topic?

1 comment:

erica gibson said...

I found reading the second article “Embodied Music Cognition” by Leon van Noorden and Marc Leman to be especially interesting. I have recently been exposed to this topic through my piano lessons and have tested the use of movement with my repertoire. I experienced this “embodied music cognition” when I would dance around the room, while singing a particular phrase inside my head. My findings were that each phrase had more clarity in their direction and overall shape. In the book Music, Motor Control and the Brain, the authors explain in the chapter “musical synchronization” how the concept of sensorimotor synchronization (SMS) is linked to the “anticipation tendency.” The example of tapping with a metronome is used, where the taps often “precede the tones by a few tens of milliseconds.” When I was dancing certain steps to my musical phrase, my body, like the hand tapping, was anticipating the next step through my audiation. Evidently, this led to my phrase becoming more fluid and with direction when I came back to the piano because my body physically anticipated the location of the following notes. This concept has also been used in rehabilitating the gait pattern of stroke patients where they stop their steps and do not anticipate the next. When a certain rhythmic beat is played, the patients’ bodies feel the urge to match the beat and thus begin a continuos walking pattern. (68)” Thaut et al. hypothesized that there is a direct pathway from the auditory system to spinal motor neurons, which enables rhythmic input to drive motor action.” ( 68)

Altenmuller E, Kesslering J, Wiesendanger M, Music, Motor Control and the Brain, Oxford University Press