Proper embodiment: The role of the body in affect and cognition

Margarita Stapleton

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract / Description of output

Embodied cognitive science has argued that cognition is embodied principally in virtue of gross morphological and sensorimotor features. This thesis argues that cognition is also internally embodied in affective and fine-grained physiological features whose transformative roles remain mostly unnoticed in contemporary cognitive science. I call this ‘proper embodiment’. I approach this larger subject by examining various emotion theories in philosophy and psychology. These tend to emphasise one of the many gross components of emotional processes, such as ‘feeling’ or ‘judgement’ to the detriment of the others, often leading to an artificial emotion-cognition distinction even within emotion science itself. Attempts to reconcile this by putting the gross components back together, such as Jesse Prinz’s “embodied appraisal theory”, are, I argue, destined to failure because the vernacular concept of emotion which is used as the explanandum is not a natural kind and is not amenable to scientific explication.I examine Antonio Damasio’s proposal that emotion is involved in paradigmatic ‘cognitive’ processing such as rational decision making, and argue (1) that the research he discusses does not warrant the particular hypothesis he favours, and (2) that Damasio’s account, though in many ways a step in the right direction, nonetheless continues to endorse a framework which sees affect and cognition as separate (though now highly interacting) faculties. I further argue that the conflation of ‘affect’ and‘emotion’ may be the source of some confusion in emotion theory and that affect needs to be properly distinguished from ‘emotion’. I examine some dissociations in the pain literature which give us further empirical evidence that, as with the emotions, affect is a distinct component along with more cognitive elements of pain. I then argue that affect is distinctive in being grounded in homeostatic regulative activity in the body proper.With the distinction between affect, emotion, and cognition in hand, and the associated grounding of affect in bodily activity, I then survey evidence that bodily affect is also involved in perception and in paradigmatic cognitive processes such as attention and executive function. I argue that this relation is not ‘merely’ casual. Instead, affect (grounded in fine-grained details of internal bodily activity) is partially constitutive of cognition, participating in cognitive processing and contributing to perceptual and cognitive phenomenology. Finally I review some work in evolutionary robotics which reaches a similar conclusion, suggesting that the particular fine details of embodiment, such as molecular signalling between both neural and somatic cells matters to cognition. I conclude that cognition is‘properly embodied’ in that it is partially constituted by the many fine-grained bodily processes involved in affect (as demonstrated in the thesis) and plausibly by a wide variety of other fine-grained bodily processes that likewise tend to escape the net of contemporary cognitive science.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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