The embodied mode of cognition, developed and elaborated by Meier and Robinson (2004, 2006), Barsalou (1999, 2003) and Wilson (2002), explains many interesting findings. For example, positive phrases, such as "The most creative product", are recognised more rapidly when presented towards the top of some page or screen. Negative phrases, such as "Unreliable goods", are recognised more rapidly when presented towards the top of some page or screen (Meier & Robinson, 2004).
Likewise, if individuals are feeling dejected, gloomy, and depressed, their attention seems to focus downwards, towards the bottom of a page for example. If individuals are feeling excited, enthusiastic, and satisfied, their attention focuses upwards, often towards the top of a page (Meier & Robinson, 2006).
To explain these findings, some scholars argue that cognition, which entails forming beliefs, evaluating alternatives, and applying logical operations, is intimately related to sensation and perception rather than isolated from bodily states (Niedenthal, Barsalou, Winkielman, & Krauth-Gruber, 2005), designated as an embodied mode of cognition. To illustrate, traditional cognitive concepts, such as morality, power, and desirability for example, are connected to tangible perceptions, notably elevated locations in space (e.g., Meier & Robinson, 2004 & Schubert, 2005).
For instance, in one study (Meier, Sellbom, & Wygant, 2007), individuals were asked to press one button when a word that relates to morality, such as "charity", appears on a screen and another button when a word that relates to immorality, such as "corrupt", appears on a screen. They tended to perform this task more effectively if words that relate to morality appear on the bottom half and words that relate to immorality appear on the top half rather than vice versa.
This inclination arises because humans associate morality with upwards, as represented by terms such as an upstanding person. This association enables individuals to conceptualize abstract concepts, such as the term morality, as an image, enhancing memory and communication. This connection between morality and the upwards direction might evolve in childhood& children tend to regard parents as the source of morality and they tend to be positioned above their head.
According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980, 1999), correlates between stimulus properties and cognitive concepts manifest in language. Specifically, they argue that metaphors, such as "boiling with anger", are not arbitrary but reflect the means by which thoughts and concepts are represented. For example, anger is represented by sensory and perceptual features, such as heat.
Evidence of this embodied mode of cognition has primarily emanated from studies that show how elevation in space tends to coincide with the concepts of morality, power, and desirability.
For example, in one typical study, participants were asked if a word that appears on a screen, such as "officer" or "servant" represents a powerful or powerless group. Participants responded more rapidly when the powerless words appear towards the bottom of this screen or the powerful words appear towards the top (Schubert, 2005). This finding is consistent with the proposition that power is assumed to coincide with elevated levels of space.
Indeed, as Robinson, Zabelina, Ode, and Moeller (2008) showed, individuals who tend to feel dominant rather than submissive are more likely to recognize words rapidly if these items are presented towards the top, not the bottom, of a screen. Specifically, these participants could more readily distinguish between words that relate to themselves, such as "my", and words that do not relate to themselves if these items were presented in an elevated location.
A similar study examined whether or not vertical position in space corresponds to desirability rather than morality or power (Meier & Robinson, 2004). A series of words, representing either positive or negative concepts, appeared on a screen. Participants were instructed to press one button if the word is positive and another button if the word is negative. Reactions times were faster when positive words were presented towards the top and negative words were presented towards the bottom rather than vice versa.
In addition to morality, power, and desirability, the mood of individuals also corresponds to vertical position. In particular, when individuals feel dejected, they are less inclined to direct their attention towards the top half of space. For instance, as depression dissipates, choice reaction time becomes increasingly faster if the stimuli appear towards the top, rather than bottom, half of space (Meier & Robinson, 2006).
People tend to associate an elevated position or location with power. Consequently, if a leader is depicted as high above everyone else, this person is especially likely to be perceived as powerful (Giessner & Schubert, 2007).
To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Giessner and Schubert (2007), participants received some information about a person. In addition, participants scanned the organization chart in which this person was the leader or CEO. On this chart, this leader was represented at the top, and the next level of management was represented underneath. A vertical line separated these two levels. As the length of this line increased relative to the font size, participants were especially likely to perceive this leader as powerful, dominant, and confident. If the two levels were separated by a horizontal rather than vertical line, this effect was no longer observed.
People associate the concept of high, rather than low, with virtue. Heaven is high, and hell is low. Consequently, when traveling upwards--or when located in an elevated spot--people are more likely to behave charitably and cooperatively (Sanna, Chang, Miceli, & Lundberg, 2011).
Sanna, Chang, Miceli, and Lundberg (2011) conducted a series of studies that illustrate this principle. For example, in one study, a kettle was placed at the top or bottom of an escalator. People were encouraged to donate money into the kettle as part of a campaign, organized by the Salvation Army. People were more likely to donate money after travelling upwards, rather than downwards, on the escalator.
In the second study, participants followed the experimenter to either the top of a stage or down to an orchestra pit. If seated on top of the stage, instead of in the orchestra pit, participants were more willing to help the experimenter complete another task as well. The final study showed that even watching a film from the perspective of a passenger in a plane, rather than a passenger in a car, subsequently increased cooperative behavior.
Usually, in photographs or pictures of two individuals, the more dominant or powerful person is placed on the left of the more submissive or powerless person (Maass, Suitner, Favaretto, and Cignacchi, 2009). This pattern, however, is not observed in cultures in which individuals read text from the right to the left, as in Arabic and Hebrew languages.
To clarify, in most languages, in which text is read from the left to the right, the subject of a sentence often precedes the object. Examples might include "The man went to the shop"--in which man is the subject and shop is the object--or "The woman applied makeup"--in which woman is the subject and makeup is the object. The subject generally precedes the object when the voice is active rather than passive. Consequently, when individuals read, the subject, which is the agent with power or control, is located to the left of objects, which is not bestowed this power or control. Over time, individuals learn to associate a person or object on the left with the agent that is granted power over the person or object on the right.
Consistent with this premise, Maass, Suitner, Favaretto, and Cignacchi (2009) showed that individuals tend to draw the powerful person to the left of the powerless person. For example, in art, Adam is usually drawn to the left of Eve, and men are often bestowed more power and dominance over women. For couples in which the male is not granted more power, this pattern does not persist: in the Simpsons, Homer does not usually appear to the left of Marge. Indeed, Maass, Suitner, Favaretto, and Cignacchi (2009) showed that men appear to the left of women only in instances in which the male is conferred power and independence. Similar patterns were observed with older versus younger individuals. Nevertheless, all of these patterns were reversed when the participants who constructed the pictures were Arabic--that is, when the participants read from right to left.
In addition to the implications of elevation, some studies have explored cognitive associations with brightness. To illustrate, many metaphors relate brightness to positive affective states, such as "You are the light of my life", and darkness to negative affective states, such as "They were dark times". According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980, 1999), therefore, these metaphors imply that positive concepts tend to be represented as bright stimuli and negative concepts tend to be represented as dark stimuli.
Consistent with this proposition, Meier, Robinson, and Clore (2004) showed that positive words were evaluated more rapidly and accurately when presented in a white font color. Negative words were evaluated more rapidly and accurately when presented in a black font color. Similarly, Meier, Robinson, Crawford, and Ahlvers (2007) showed that negative words are perceived as darker than are positive words.
If people are exposed to a webpage or article in which the background comprises black and white checkered squares, rather than just a plain grey or a colored checkered pattern, their judgments are more extreme. That is, black and white patterns tend to evoke black and white thinking (Zarkadi & Schnall, 2013). Presumably, a black and white pattern activates the metaphor of black and white thinking, shaping the cognitive processes of individuals.
In one study, participants were exposed to the Heinz dilemma. This dilemma revolves around a man, called Heinz, whose wife is dying on cancer. The drugs that could save her life cost more than he can afford. Therefore, he decides to steal the drugs.
The dilemma appeared on a screen in which the background border was a black and white checkered pattern, a colored checkered pattern, or a grey background. Participants were then asked to indicate, on a scale from 1 to 7, the degree to which they felt the actions of Heinz were right or wrong. Compared to the other participants, participants exposed to the black and white checkered pattern generated more extreme responses. They were more inclined to perceive Heinz as either entirely right or entirely wrong. A subsequent study showed that black and white patterns generated moe extreme support or opposition to other moral issues, such as pornography, adultery, drug use, smoking, littering, and swearing.
Some overt behaviors can amplify aggression. For example, in one study, conducted by Chandler and Schwartz (2009), participants read an anecdote about a person. From the anecdote, whether or not this person was hostile was ambiguous. Individuals were more likely to perceive this person as hostile if they extended their middle finger at the same time--a movement that, in many societies, has become associated with aggression.
After individuals write about a thought, such as a concern about the shape of their body, on a piece of paper, and then rip as well as discard this paper, these thoughts are not as likely to affect their emotions or judgments, called the thought-disposal effect (Brinol, Gasco, Petty, & Horcajo, 2013). Physically discarding paper in which these thoughts are printed is more effective than merely imagining discarding these papers.
For example, in one study, conducted by Brinol, Gasco, Petty, and Horcajo (2013), participants were instructed to write positive or negative thoughts about their body on a piece of paper. Next, these individuals were told either to discard this paper or to check and uncover errors. Finally, participants were asked to rate the degree to which they perceive themselves as attractive or likeable. If participants had not discarded the paper, they ratings about themselves were more unfavorable after writing about negative thoughts instead of positive thoughts. However, if participants had discarded the paper, whether they wrote about positive or negative thoughts did not affect their attitudes towards themselves. They were, therefore, more resilient to these negative thoughts.
Two subsequent studies extended these findings. First, these studies showed that ripping and discarding paper did indeed diminish the accessibility of these thoughts. Second, these studies demonstrated this effect extends to thoughts about food intake instead of body image. Third, these studies showed that retaining the paper with these thoughts in a pocket increased their reliance on these thoughts. Finally, these studies showed that physically discarding these thoughts was more effective than imagining this act. In short, when thoughts are treated as physical objects that can be discarded, individuals feel they have, on some level, dismissed these thoughts.
Smiling has been shown to promote resilience. That is, if exposed to stressful environments, individuals who smile--either deliberately or inadvertently--are not as likely to exhibit the signs of stress. They do not, for example, exhibit a pronounced increase in their heart rate. In addition, they report a more positive mood (Kraft & Pressman, 2012). Presumably, when individuals smile, they tend to experience the feelings they associate with this facial expression, at least momentarily.
For example, in one study, conducted by Kraft and Pressman (2012), participants received a photo of a girl holding chopsticks with her lips. Their task was to mimic this person. In one condition, the person held the chopsticks in her lips gently& her facial muscles were relaxed. In another condition, the person held the chopsticks in her lips in a way that activates the zygomaticus major muscles--muscles that are activated during an unnatural smile. Consequently, participants who mirrored this picture smiled, but not sincerely. In the final condition, the person held the chopsticks in her lips in a way that activates the zygomaticus major and orbicularis oculi muscles, activated during a real or Duchenne smile. Therefore, participants who mirrored this picture inadvertently generated a Duchenne smile.
While maintaining the chopsticks between their lips, participants also completed a stressful task: They needed to trace a star with their non-preferred hand while watching only a mirror image of this star. Whenever they strayed from the star, they received negative auditory feedback, merely to provoke stress. Their heart rate was recorded during this time. Next, participants were instructed to immerse their hand in very cold water for as long as possible. Finally, their mood was reported before and after these tasks.
If participants were smiling, their heart rate recovered more rapidly after completing the stressful task. Their levels of positive affect were relatively insensitive to stress as well. These findings persisted even if participants were deliberately told to smile and were, therefore, aware they were smiling. Finally, natural, Duchenne smiles were more effective than unnatural smiles.
People tend to associate forward movement with achievement. To illustrate, in one pair of studies, reported by Natanzon and Ferguson (2012), some participants were exposed to lines extend from the side of a screen and converge towards the top. These lines induce a sense of forward movement, as though someone is travelling towards the horizon. In the control conditions, participants were exposed to similar lines that converge towards the bottom or other alternatives.
Next, participants completed an implicit test that assesses their attitudes towards achievement. The lines that induced a sense of forward movement evoked positive attitudes towards achievement, but only when assessed implicitly. Furthermore, in the next study, the lines that induced a sense of forward movement increased the number of words that participants uncovered during a word finding task.
After people initiate or watch a clockwise movement, they gravitate to novel and unfamiliar objects or activities rather than familiar or conventional alternatives (Topolinski & Sparenberg, 2011). Specifically, clockwise movement, in contrast to anticlockwise movement, is associated with progress rather than regression. Consequently, clockwise movement evokes the motivation to progress. People, for example, embrace novel objects or activities, because these alternatives may foster this progress.
Topolinski and Sparenberg (2011) conducted four studies to verify this possibility. For exampel, after turning a crank in a clockwise direction, instead of an anticlockwise direction, participants rated novel stimuli more favorably than familiar stimuli. That is, they were more inclined to like patterns or objects that had not seen before. They also reported elevated levels of openness to experience. Even watching an object, such as a Lazy Susan, turn in clockwise direction translated to similar consequences.
Sometimes, people move their hands fluidly rather than rigidly. Their movements seem more fluent and natural. Arguably, fluid movements can also evoke more fluid, fluent, and flexible thoughts, ultimately improving creativity.
This possibility was proposed and validated by Slepian and Ambady (2012). In this study, some participants traced a picture that was curved rather than angular, and therefore moved their hand more fluently. Other participants traced a picture that was more angular. After tracing a picture that primed fluid movements, participants subsequently identified more original uses of a newspaper. They were also more likely to perceive a set of words that were modestly related to each other as exemplars of the same category. Finally, they performed better on the remote association test, in which they needed to determine which sets of three words are related to a fourth word.
When people sit on a wobbly chair and lean on a wobbly table, they are more inclined to perceive relationships as brittle and also become more likely to value traits that relate to stability, such as trustworthy, reliable partners. For example, in one study, reported by Kille, Forest, and Wood (2013), some participants sat on a wobbly chair and leant on a wobbly table. Other participants sat on a stable chair and leant on a stable table. They were then asked to indicate the likelihood that four famous relationships, such as the marriage of Barack and Michelle Obama, would dissolve in the next five years. Finally, they were asked to rate the degree to which they value various traits in partners, such as trustworthy, reliable, spontaneous, adventurous, loving, or funny.
If participants sad on a wobbly chair and leant on a wobbly table, they were more inclined to perceive other relationships as unstable and more likely to value trustworthy and reliable partners over individuals who epitomize instability, such as spontaneity and adventure. Presumably, when people sit on a wobbly chair and lean on a wobbly table, they experience physical cues of instability. These cues shape the perceptions of people. They feel their environment is unstable. Consequently, they regard relationships as unstable and seek stability to compensate.
Sometimes, people feel ambivalent about various issues. When reflecting upon some issue, such as whether the minimum wage should be abolished, they may be aware of both the benefits and drawbacks of this initiative. These ambivalent attitudes are associated with the notion of wavering between two sides. Because of this association, if people do experience ambivalent attitudes, they are actually more likely to shift their body from side to side. Conversely, when they shift their body from side to side, they are more likely to adopt ambivalent attitudes (Schneider, Eerland, van Harreveld, Rotteveel, van der Pligt, van der Stoep, & Zwaan, 2013).
Schneider et al. (2013) conducted two studies to demonstrate this possibility. In the first study, participants read a discussion about whether the minimum wage should be abolished. Some participants read both the benefits and drawbacks of this initiative, evoking ambivalence. Other participants read about only the benefits of this initiative. Furthermore, during this exercise, participants stood on a Wii Balance Board. If participants experienced ambivalence, they were more likely to shift their weight from one leg to the other leg.
In the second study, participants watched a video of someone performing tai chi. Their task was to imitate this person, who moved from side to side, up and down, or not at all. Next, they were instructed to reflect upon an issue that evoked ambivalent attitudes. The individuals then indicated the degree to which they felt their thoughts about this issue conflicted with each other and were mixed as well as indecisive. Movements from side to side evoked conflicting, mixed thoughts.
Throughout human evolution, the color green is associated with vegetation and growth. Perhaps because of this association, green is regarded as a symbol of growth and opportunity in many cultures (Lichtenfeld, Elliot, Maier, & Pekrun, 2012)& a green thumb, for example, implies that someone can grow plants effectively. Therefore, the color green tends to evoke mindsets that facilitate exploration, growth, and creativity, similar to a learning orientation.
Lichtenfeld, Elliot, Maier, and Pekrun (2012) conducted a series of studies that substantiate this possibility. For example, in the first study, participants completed a task over computer. The first screen was white. The number 1, printed in a black font, was located at the center. This number was surrounded by a small rectangle. The rectangle was either filled with green or unfilled and, therefore, white. Next, participants were asked to uncover as many uses of common objects, like tin cans, as possible. If participants had been exposed to the green rectangle instead of the white rectangle, they uncovered more creative, clever, and uncommon answers to this question.
The other studies demonstrated this effect is indeed robust. For example, green is also more likely than grey, red, and blue to foster creativity. Similarly, green enhanced performance on an array of creative tasks, such as the capacity to draw a range of objects, beginning with a specific geometric figure, or to name as many instances of specific categories, such as "round things".
In general, people associate the concept of warmth with close relationships. For example, children feel warm whenever they are embraced by their parents. Likewise, various expressions, such as a warm relationship or a cold shoulder, reinforce this association between warmth and affiliation.
To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Fay and Maner (2012), some participants sat in a chair that was mildly heated, whereas other participants sat in an unheated chair. Next, all participants completed some questions that assessed their need to belong and the value they attach to relationships. If participants sat in the heated chair, they were more likely to report a need to belong, endorsing items like "My feelings are easily hurt when I feel that others do not accept me". Likewise, they valued relationships more as well, as gauged by items such as "I would find it very satisfying to be able to form new friendships with whomever I liked".
Interestingly, this pattern of observations was not uncovered in participants who had also reported an insecure attachment style, as characterized by either avoidance of intimacy or fear of rejection. Presumably, only people who exhibit a secure attachment style, in which they trust the support and friendship of other individuals, develop this strong association between warmth and affiliation.
As Meier, Moeller, Riemer-Peltz, and Robinson (2011) demonstrated, individuals tend to associate sweet tastes with agreeable behavior. That is, to learn an abstract characteristic, children will initially embed this concept with sensory features. For various reasons, they tend to embed concepts that relate to agreeableness with sweet features. For example, phrases like "a sweet person" or "a sweet act" often coincide with agreeableness. These phrases may have evolved initially because many sweet tastes, such as breast milk, are indeed associated with forms of affiliation and cooperation.
Meier, Moeller, Riemer-Peltz, and Robinson (2011) uncovered some remarkable implications of this argument. In the first study, participants observed 100 photographs of individuals, each of whom indicated the food they like. In addition, the participants evaluated the personality of these individuals. The individuals who claimed to like sweet foods, such as honey, were perceived as more agreeable than were the individuals who claimed to like salty, spicy, sour, or bitter foods.
In the second and third studies, participants rated the extent to which they themselves liked sweet foods. Individuals who appreciably liked sweet foods were more likely to also rate themselves as agreeable. These individuals also were more inclined to donate time or money to a cause.
In the fourth and fifth studies, participants consumed various foods. After consuming and savoring sweet food, individuals were more likely to perceive themselves as agreeable. They were also more inclined to participate in additional research, reflecting pro-social behavior.
After individuals consume bitter tastes, they become especially motivated to fulfill their immediate needs, often to the detriment of their future goals (Chen & Chang, 2012). In particular, throughout evolution, bitter tastes tend to coincide with conditions of deprivation. For example, in response to droughts, potatoes tend to be especially bitter. Likewise, in response to other food shortages, people need to eat, and indeed become likely to prefer, bitter food. Therefore, bitter food evokes a survival motivation, in which their attention is oriented towards features that can facilitate survival. Specifically, to facilitate survival, attention is shifted from future goals to immediate needs.
Chen and Chang (2012) undertook a series of studies that verified this argument. For example, after consuming bitter seeds, rather than a sour lemon, individuals were more inclined to choose modest amounts of money now rather than larger amounts of money in the future. Likewise, these bitter foods increased accessibility of words that specifically relate to survival rather than mating or anything else, as demonstrated by a lexical decision task.
In general, spicy foods are associated with anger. For example, people who are often angry are more inclined to like spicy foods than are their peers. In addition, people assume than anyone who likes spicier foods tend to be more susceptible to outbursts of anger (Ji, Ding, Deng, Ma, & Jiang, 2013). That is, people associate spice with anger. Physiologically, consuming spicy foods and experiencing anger evoke similar physiological responses, such as a red face and increases in body heat.
In one study, participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they like various sweet, bitter, sour, and spicy foods. Later, they completed a measure of trait anger. People who liked spicy foods, such as chili peppers, or sour foods were more likely to report elevated levels of trait anger.
In a second study, a series of photographs appeared, each depicting a stranger and a sentence. The sentence depicted the food that each stranger liked. Participants rated the degree to which each stranger exhibited various characteristics, including extraverted, self-reliant or irritable. Strangers who liked spicy foods were presumed to be more irritable.
As Keefer, Landau, Sullivan, and Rothschild (2011) showed, when people experience a sense of uncertainty, embodied cognition is especially pronounced. Individuals are especially likely, for example, to associate positive features with an upwards direction.
As implied by conceptual metaphor theory (e.g., Lakoff & Johnson, 1980;; Landau, Meier, & Keefer, 2010), people tend to use metaphors to override uncertainty or haziness. For example, the concept of morality is vague. If this concept is connected to some tangible feature, such as an upwards direction, this sense of haziness diminishes. Individuals feel more certain.
Keefer, Landau, Sullivan, and Rothschild (2011) tested this possibility. In one study, to evoke uncertainty, some participants were encouraged to describe some of the uncertainties, such as whether or not they will be able to secure a job after they leave college. Other participants did not describe uncertainties, but were instead asked to describe the feelings that physical pain can evoke.
Next, participants were asked to contemplate the factors that influenced their decision to attend the university in which they were enrolled, such as close location or excellent reputation. Some participants were asked to specify the earliest factor that influenced their decision on the bottom of some paper and then proceed upwards as they specify later factors. Other participants began at the top instead. Finally, participants specified their certainty about whether their decision to attend this university was suitable.
If uncertainty had been evoked, writing the factors at the bottom first and then gradually rising to the top--instead of the reverse--was more likely to promote certainty in individuals about their decision to attend this university. That is, proceeding upwards corresponds to the metaphor of stepping up instead of going downhill. This metaphor then biased the decision. However, if uncertainty had not been evoked, proceeding upwards did not affect the decisions certainty. In this state, individuals were not as sensitive to metaphors or embodied cognition.
Arguably, embodied cognition can explain more tangible acts but not more abstract concepts. To illustrate, contemplation of how people perform some act elicits different brain regions than does contemplation of why people perform some act (Spunt, Falk, & Lieberman, 2010). Specifically, when individuals reflect on how people undertake some action, premotor and higher-order visual regions are activated, as functional magnetic resonance imaging demonstrates. For example, in one study, participants were asked to specify how people undertake various acts, like brushing their teeth. In this instance, the answer might be "Using a toothbrush". While answering this question, premotor and higher-order visual regions were activated (Spunt, Falk, & Lieberman, 2010)..
The premotor regions underpin the execution of actions, whereas the visual regions underpin the perception of objects that are relevant to the action. Knowledge about how to perform actions, therefore, are embodied in regions that represent the motor and visual areas that correspond to these acts (Spunt, Falk, & Lieberman, 2010).
In contrast, when individuals reflect upon why people undertake actions, the right temporoparietal junction, precuneus, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, and posterior superior temporal sulcus are activated. These regions correspond to representing and reasoning about mental states and underpin theory of mind--that is, attempts to understand and accommodate the perspective of other people. Thus, embodied cognition seems to underpin how, but not why, people perform acts.
Organisations sometimes like to portray themselves as moral, powerful, or desirable. These organisations should ensure their advertisements in newspapers or magazines are located at the top of a page or screen. Furthermore, during longer excerpts, they should criticize their rivals towards the bottom of pages. Finally, messages should be presented in white font on a dark background.
Some print advertisements, however, are directed to individuals who feel dejected, dissatisfied, ashamed, or submissive. For example, commercials on gambling are directed to ashamed individuals. Job advertisements, intended to recruit individuals who follow rules, are directed towards applicants who might be submissive. These advertisements should appear towards the bottom of a page. That is, when individuals feel dejected, depressed, or submissive, their attention is usually directed downwards rather than upwards.
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Last Update: 5/22/2016