The linguistic and embodied nature of conceptual processing

Cognition 114 (1):96-104 (2010)
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Abstract

Recent theories of cognition have argued that embodied experience is important for conceptual processing. Embodiment can be contrasted with linguistic factors such as the typical order in which words appear in language. Here, we report four experiments that investigated the conditions under which embodiment and linguistic factors determine performance. Participants made speeded judgments about whether pairs of words or pictures were semantically related or had an iconic relationship. The embodiment factor was operationalized as the degree to which stimulus pairs were presented in the spatial configurations in which they usually occur (i.e., an iconic configuration, e.g., attic presented above basement). The linguistic factor was operationalized as the frequency of the stimulus pairs in language. The embodiment factor predicted error rates and response time better for pictures, whereas the linguistic factor predicted error rates and response time better for words. These findings were modified by task, with the embodiment factor being strongest in iconicity judgments for pictures and the linguistic factor being strongest in semantic judgments for words. Both factors predicted error rates and response time for both semantic and iconicity judgments. These findings support the view that conceptual processing is both linguistic and embodied, with a bias for the embodiment or the linguistic factor depending on the nature of the task and the stimuli.

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