Listen to Your Body: It’s Smarter Than You Think

April 9, 2017 Carol No comments exist

What would you say to a science that could lure you away from your keyboards and screens, and send you off to learn mindfulness meditation or yoga, auto mechanics or patisserie?


The science is embodied cognition. It says listen to your body. Since mindfulness meditation and yoga can help with that, the science would favor them.


How about auto mechanics and patisserie? Why encourage those sorts of activities? Because, as Guy Claxton puts it, “Practical common sense and physical expertise are at least as subtle, sophisticated and valuable as erudite and logical reasoning.”


Embodied cognition recognizes the body’s ability to influence the mind, and views it as an important resource in our thought processes. Therefore, the body can aid in decision making and help shape behaviors.


So let’s dive into this science. We’ll start with a definition and a few core concepts. Then we’ll discuss some of the practical applications.


Embodied cognition is the idea that the mind is not only connected to the body but that the body influences the mind. In other words, what goes on in our minds stems from our actions and interactions with the world around us.


Here is a good description:

Embodiment is the surprisingly radical hypothesis that the brain is not the sole cognitive resource we have available to us to solve problems. Our bodies and their perceptually guided motions through the world do much of the work required to achieve our goals, replacing the need for complex internal mental representations. – Frontiers | Embodied Cognition is Not What you Think it is | Cognitive Science


In an interview with Tom Ashbrook, Matthew Crawford remarks, “It is in skilled activities that the role of the of body in understanding the world becomes most clear.” Crawford cites the example of catching a fly ball. “If you start running and you run in such a way that the ball appears to be travelling in a straight line at constant speed, that puts you in the right spot to catch the ball. He explains,”We don’t always rely on internal mental representations to solve a problem in the world. Sometimes the world is its own best model.”

Core Concepts

These concepts are put forth in Guy Claxton’s book Intelligence in the Flesh, as reported in Yale Books: An Interview With Guy Claxton.


listen to your body

Mindfulness meditation involves trying to watch the ebb and flow of your experience with a more dispassionate, but more meticulous, eye than normal. As you learn to do this, so you begin to be able to see it more ‘cleanly’, so to speak, before all kinds of habitual approximations and beliefs have got stirred into it. And this makes you able, bit by bit, to call into question some of those assumptions – like ‘I’m a bad person’ or ‘you should be ashamed of that’ – and ‘taste’ your own experience before it has been contaminated. When you do that it is often funnier and less worrisome than you thought. And you become more aware of the origins of those assumptions in the visceral value system of your own body. You really feel your feelings.

New Materialism

Claxton discusses a ‘New Materialism … one which is not about shopping and conspicuous consumption, but about the pleasures of making and moving, from quilting to skateboarding.’

Practical Applications


An understanding of embodied cognition can encourage healthy behaviors.


Mind/body dualism is bad for you. Really. A study by researchers at the University of Cologne has people read a short text that made the case for dualism, encouraging them to see their minds and bodies as two quite distinct entities (Forstmann et al., 2012). A control group were primed with ‘physicalism’: arguments for seeing mind and body as two inseparable sides of the same coin. Not only did the dualists report less engagement and interest in healthy behaviors and attitudes than the physicalists, they were actually more likely to choose the chips than the salad when they went off for lunch.…  – Intelligence in the flesh | The Psychologist


Behavior is not simply the output of someone’s isolated brain.


Communication is a good example:

If you’re interested in changing someone’s communication behavior, the implication is that you don’t necessarily need to change anything about them; you might instead focus on changing the environment. – Embodied Cognition: What It Is & Why It’s Important | Psychology Today


This same principle could be applied to other types of behavioral changes we wish to effect. I am thinking about how a child’s behavior can be shaped by his or her environment. 

Learning and Teaching

Learning is easier, quicker and more long-lasting if lessons involve the body as well as the mind. 


Real life experiences bear this out. You probably learned basic mathematical concepts by counting on your fingers, or even with an abacus. We appreciate the communicative value of our body language.


Susan Wagner Cook, a psychologist at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, has found that children pick up new concepts more effectively if they are taught to mirror and repeat the gestures their teacher uses, and that lessons involving words and gestures live longer in a student’s memory than lessons using words alone.


Read more on this topic here: BBC – Future – Want to learn quicker? Use your body.

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