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Current paradigms study language comprehension as if archival memory were its primary function. Subjects only receive linguistic material and are later tested on memory for its contents. In contrast, the two target articles in this issue, Glenberg and Robertson (in press) and Roth (in press), examine comprehension as if preparing for situated action were its primary function. Besides receiving linguistic materials as input, subjects study objects, actions, and interactions between agents. Rather than simply being tested on memory for linguistic materials, subjects also produce actions and enter into group interactions. Although these researchers focus their attention on specific genres---the comprehension of verbal instructions and the comprehension of scientific theories---their methods and findings have wider implications. In particular, the primary function of comprehension is not to archive information but is instead to prepare agents for situated action. Arguments from the evolution of cognition and language are brought to bear on this thesis, and perceptual simulation is proposed as a mechanism well-suited for supporting situated comprehension. Finally, it is conjectured that studying comprehension in the context of situated action is likely to produce significant scientific progress. Sense fades into reference. Roth (in press) If an outsider reviewed research on language comprehension, what conclusions might he or she reach? After reviewing this literature myself for a text on cognitive psychology (Barsalou, 1992, Chapters 8 and 9), I concluded that comprehension is essentially archival memory, describing it as follows: (1) Words enter the cognitive system through phonemic and graphemic processing. (2) Word representations are translated into amodal syntactic str...
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Embodied theories are increasingly challenging traditional views of cognition by arguing that conceptual representations that constitute our knowledge are grounded in sensory and motor experiences, and processed at this sensorimotor level, rather than being represented and processed abstractly in an amodal conceptual system. Given the established empirical foundation, and the relatively underspecified theories to date, many researchers are extremely interested in embodied cognition but are clamoring for more mechanistic implementations. What is needed at this stage is a push toward explicit computational models that implement sensorimotor grounding as intrinsic to cognitive processes. In this article, six authors from varying backgrounds and approaches address issues concerning the construction of embodied computational models, and illustrate what they view as the critical current and next steps toward mechanistic theories of embodiment. The first part has the form of a dialog between two fictional characters: Ernest, the “experimenter,” and Mary, the “computational modeler.” The dialog consists of an interactive sequence of questions, requests for clarification, challenges, and (tentative) answers, and touches the most important aspects of grounded theories that should inform computational modeling and, conversely, the impact that computational modeling could have on embodied theories. The second part of the article discusses the most important open challenges for embodied computational modeling.
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Embodied theories are increasingly challenging traditional views of cognition by arguing that conceptual representations that constitute our knowledge are grounded in sensory and motor experiences, and processed at this sensorimotor level, rather than being represented and processed abstractly in an amodal conceptual system. Given the established empirical foundation, and the relatively underspecified theories to date, many researchers are extremely interested in embodied cognition but are clamoring for more mechanistic implementations. What is needed at this stage is a push toward explicit computational models that implement sensorimotor grounding as intrinsic to cognitive processes. In this article, six authors from varying backgrounds and approaches address issues concerning the construction of embodied computational models, and illustrate what they view as the critical current and next steps toward mechanistic theories of embodiment. The first part has the form of a dialog between two fictional characters: Ernest, the “experimenter,” and Mary, the “computational modeler.” The dialog consists of an interactive sequence of questions, requests for clarification, challenges, and (tentative) answers, and touches the most important aspects of grounded theories that should inform computational modeling and, conversely, the impact that computational modeling could have on embodied theories. The second part of the article discusses the most important open challenges for embodied computational modeling.

Three studies illustrate that mindful attention prevents impulses toward attractive food. Participants received a brief mindfulness procedure in which they observed their reactions to external stimuli as transient mental events rather than subjectively real experiences. Participants then applied this procedure to viewing pictures of highly attractive and neutral food items. Finally, reactions to food stimuli were assessed with an implicit approach-avoidance task. Across experiments, spontaneous approach reactions elicited by attractive food were fully eliminated in the mindful attention condition compared to the control condition, in which participants viewed the same items without mindful attention. These effects were maintained over a 5-minute distraction period. Our findings suggest that mindful attention to one’s own mental experiences helps to control impulsive responses and thus suggest mindfulness as a potentially powerful method for facilitating self-regulation.
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Studies have suggested that the default mode network is active during mind wandering, which is often experienced intermittently during sustained attention tasks. Conversely, an anticorrelated task-positive network is thought to subserve various forms of attentional processing. Understanding how these two systems work together is central for understanding many forms of optimal and sub-optimal task performance. Here we present a basic model of naturalistic cognitive fluctuations between mind wandering and attentional states derived from the practice of focused attention meditation. This model proposes four intervals in a cognitive cycle: mind wandering, awareness of mind wandering, shifting of attention, and sustained attention. People who train in this style of meditation cultivate their abilities to monitor cognitive processes related to attention and distraction, making them well suited to report on these mental events. Fourteen meditation practitioners performed breath-focused meditation while undergoing fMRI scanning. When participants realized their mind had wandered, they pressed a button and returned their focus to the breath. The four intervals above were then constructed around these button presses. We hypothesized that periods of mind wandering would be associated with default mode activity, whereas cognitive processes engaged during awareness of mind wandering, shifting of attention and sustained attention would engage attentional subnetworks. Analyses revealed activity in brain regions associated with the default mode during mind wandering, and in salience network regions during awareness of mind wandering. Elements of the executive network were active during shifting and sustained attention. Furthermore, activations during these cognitive phases were modulated by lifetime meditation experience. These findings support and extend theories about cognitive correlates of distributed brain networks.

Studies have suggested that the default mode network is active during mind wandering, which is often experienced intermittently during sustained attention tasks. Conversely, an anticorrelated task-positive network is thought to subserve various forms of attentional processing. Understanding how these two systems work together is central for understanding many forms of optimal and sub-optimal task performance. Here we present a basic model of naturalistic cognitive fluctuations between mind wandering and attentional states derived from the practice of focused attention meditation. This model proposes four intervals in a cognitive cycle: mind wandering, awareness of mind wandering, shifting of attention, and sustained attention. People who train in this style of meditation cultivate their abilities to monitor cognitive processes related to attention and distraction, making them well suited to report on these mental events. Fourteen meditation practitioners performed breath-focused meditation while undergoing fMRI scanning. When participants realized their mind had wandered, they pressed a button and returned their focus to the breath. The four intervals above were then constructed around these button presses. We hypothesized that periods of mind wandering would be associated with default mode activity, whereas cognitive processes engaged during awareness of mind wandering, shifting of attention and sustained attention would engage attentional subnetworks. Analyses revealed activity in brain regions associated with the default mode during mind wandering, and in salience network regions during awareness of mind wandering. Elements of the executive network were active during shifting and sustained attention. Furthermore, activations during these cognitive phases were modulated by lifetime meditation experience. These findings support and extend theories about cognitive correlates of distributed brain networks.
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Research on the “emotional brain” remains centered around the idea that emotions like fear, happiness, and sadness result from specialized and distinct neural circuitry. Accumulating behavioral and physiological evidence suggests, instead, that emotions are grounded in core affect—a person’s fluctuating level of pleasant or unpleasant arousal. A neuroimaging study revealed that participants’ subjective ratings of valence (i.e., pleasure/displeasure) and of arousal evoked by various fear, happiness, and sadness experiences correlated with neural activity in specific brain regions (orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala, respectively). We observed these correlations across diverse instances within each emotion category, as well as across instances from all three categories. Consistent with a psychological construction approach to emotion, the results suggest that neural circuitry realizes more basic processes across discrete emotions. The implicated brain regions regulate the body to deal with the world, producing the affective changes at the core of emotions and many other psychological phenomena.
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According to the Perceptual Symbols Theory of cognition (Barsalou, 1999), modality-specific simulations underlie the representation of concepts. A strong prediction of this view is that perceptual processing affects conceptual processing. In this study, participants performed a perceptual detection task and a conceptual property-verification task in alternation. Responses on the property-verification task were slower for those trials that were preceded by a perceptual trial in a different modality than for those that were preceded by a perceptual trial in the same modality. This finding of a modality-switch effect across perceptual processing and conceptual processing supports the hypothesis that perceptual and conceptual representations are partially based on the same systems.
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In three experiments, participants received nouns or noun phrases for objects and verbally generated their properties ("feature listing"). Several sources of evidence indicated that participants constructed perceptual simulations to generate properties for the noun phrases during conceptual combination. First, the production of object properties for noun phrases depended on occlusion, with unoccluded properties being generated more often than occluded properties. Because a perceptual variable affected conceptual combination, perceptual simulations appeared central to combining the concepts for modifiers and head nouns. Second, neutral participants produced the same distributions of properties as participants instructed to describe images, suggesting that the conceptual representations used by neutral participants were similar to the mental images used by imagery participants. Furthermore, the property distributions for neutral and imagery participants differed from those for participants instructed to produce word associations. Third, participants produced large amounts of information about background situations associated with the object cues, suggesting that the simulations used to generate properties were situated. The experiments ruled out alternative explanations that simulation effects occur only for familiar noun phrases associated with perceptual memories and that rules associated with modifiers produce occlusion effects. A process model of the property generation task grounded in simulation mechanisms is presented. The possibility of integrating the simulation account of conceptual combination with traditional accounts and well-established findings is explored.
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Increasing research indicates that concepts are represented as distributed circuits of property information across the brain's modality-specific areas. The current study examines the distributed representation of an important but under-explored category, foods. Participants viewed pictures of appetizing foods (along with pictures of locations for comparison) during event-related fMRI. Compared to location pictures, food pictures activated the right insula/operculum and the left orbitofrontal cortex, both gustatory processing areas. Food pictures also activated regions of visual cortex that represent object shape. Together these areas contribute to a distributed neural circuit that represents food knowledge. Not only does this circuit become active during the tasting of actual foods, it also becomes active while viewing food pictures. Via the process of pattern completion, food pictures activate gustatory regions of the circuit to produce conceptual inferences about taste. Consistent with theories that ground knowledge in the modalities, these inferences arise as reenactments of modality-specific processing.
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Is our knowledge about the appearance of objects more closely related to verbal thought or to perception? In a behavioural study using a property verification task, Kosslyn (1976) reported that there are both amodal and perceptual representations of concepts, but that amodal representations may be more easily accessed. However, Solomon (1997) argued that due to the nature of Kosslyn’s stimuli, subjects may be able to bypass semantics entirely and perform this task using differences in the strength of association between words in true trials (e.g., cat–whiskers) and those in false trials (e.g., mouse–stinger). Solomon found no evidence for amodal representations when the task materials were altered to include associated false trials (e.g., cat–litter), which require semantic processing, as opposed to associative strategies. In the current study, we used fMRI to examine the response of regions of visual association cortex while subjects performed a property verification task with either associated or unassociated false trials. We found reliable activity across subjects within the left fusiform gyrus when true trials were intermixed with associated false trials but not when true trials were intermixed with unassociated false trials. Our data support the idea that conceptual knowledge is organised visually and that it is grounded in the perceptual system. One of the leading theories of the organisation of
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According to the perceptual symbols theory (Barsalou, 1999), sensorimotor simulations underlie the representation of concepts. Simulations are componential in the sense that they vary with the context in which the concept is presented. In the present study, we investigated whether representations are affected by recent experiences with a concept. Concept names (e.g., APPLE) were presented twice in a property verification task with a different property on each occasion. The two properties were either from the same perceptual modality (e.g.,green, shiny) or from different modalities (e.g.,tart, shiny). All stimuli were words. There was a lag of several intervening trials between the first and second presentation. Verification times and error rates for the second presentation of the concept were higher if the properties were from different modalities than if they were from the same modality.
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Three theories currently compete to explain the conceptual deficits that result from brain damage: sensory-functional theory, domain-specific theory, and conceptual structure theory. We argue that all three theories capture important aspects of conceptual deficits, and offer different insights into their origins. Conceptual topography theory (CTT) integrates these insights, beginning with A. R. Damasio’s (1989) convergence zone theory and elaborating it with the similarity-in-topography (SIT) principle. According to CTT, feature maps in sensory-motor systems represent the features of a category’s exemplars. A hierarchical system of convergence zones then conjoins these features to form both property and category representations. According to the SIT principle, the proximity of two conjunctive neurons in a convergence zone increases with the similarity of the features they conjoin. As a result, conjunctive neurons become topographically organised into local regions that represent properties and categories. Depending on the level and location of a lesion in this system, a wide variety of deficits is possible. Consistent with the literature, these deficits range from the loss of a single category to the loss of multiple categories that share sensory-motor properties.
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Based on accumulating evidence, simulation appears to be a basic computational mechanism in the brain that supports a broad spectrum of processes from perception to social cognition. Further evidence suggests that simulation is typically situated, with the situated character of experience in the environment being reflected in the situated character of the representations that underlie simulation. A basic architecture is sketched of how the brain implements situated simulation. Within this framework, simulators implement the concepts that underlie knowledge, and situated conceptualizations capture patterns of multi-modal simulation associated with frequently experienced situations. A pattern completion inference mechanism uses current perception to activate situated conceptualizations that produce predictions via simulations on relevant modalities. Empirical findings from perception, action, working memory, conceptual processing, language and social cognition illustrate how this framework produces the extensive prediction that characterizes natural intelligence.
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For decades the importance of background situations has been documented across all areas of cognition. Nevertheless, theories of concepts generally ignore background situations, focusing largely on bottom-up, stimulus-based processing. Furthermore, empirical research on concepts typically ignores background situations, not incorporating them into experimental designs. A selective review of relevant literatures demonstrates that concepts are not abstracted out of situations but instead are situated. Background situations constrain conceptual processing in many tasks (e.g., recall, recognition, categorization, lexical decision, color naming, property verification, property generation) across many areas of cognition (e.g., episodic memory, conceptual processing, visual object recognition, language comprehension). A taxonomy of situations is proposed in which grain size, meaningfulness, and tangibility distinguish the cumulative situations that structure cognition hierarchically.
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Four theories of the human conceptual system--semantic memory, exemplar models, feed-forward connectionist nets, and situated simulation theory--are characterized and contrasted on five dimensions. Empirical evidence is then reviewed for the situated simulation theory and conclusions are discussed. (Author/VWL)
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Psychological construction approaches to emotion suggest that emotional experience is situated and dynamic. Fear, for example, is typically studied in a physical danger context (e.g., threatening snake), but in the real world, it often occurs in social contexts, especially those involving social evaluation (e.g., public speaking). Understanding situated emotional experience is critical because adaptive responding is guided by situational context (e.g., inferring the intention of another in a social evaluation situation vs. monitoring the environment in a physical danger situation). In an fMRI study, we assessed situated emotional experience using a newly developed paradigm in which participants vividly imagine different scenarios from a first-person perspective, in this case scenarios involving either social evaluation or physical danger. We hypothesized that distributed neural patterns would underlie immersion in social evaluation and physical danger situations, with shared activity patterns across both situations in multiple sensory modalities and in circuitry involved in integrating salient sensory information, and with unique activity patterns for each situation type in coordinated large-scale networks that reflect situated responding. More specifically, we predicted that networks underlying the social inference and mentalizing involved in responding to a social threat (in regions that make up the “default mode” network) would be reliably more active during social evaluation situations. In contrast, networks underlying the visuospatial attention and action planning involved in responding to a physical threat would be reliably more active during physical danger situations. The results supported these hypotheses. In line with emerging psychological construction approaches, the findings suggest that coordinated brain networks offer a systematic way to interpret the distributed patterns that underlie the diverse situational contexts characterizing emotional life.
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Three experiments demonstrated that situational information contributes to the categorization of functional object categories, as well as to inferences about these categories. When an object was presented in the context of setting and event information, categorization was more accurate than when the object was presented in isolation. Inferences about the object similarly became more accurate as the amount of situational information present during categorization increased. The benefits of situational information were higher when both setting and event information were available than when only setting information was available. These findings indicate that situational information about settings and events is stored with functional object categories in memory. Categorization and inference become increasingly accurate as the information available during categorization matches situational information stored with the category.
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Previous research has shown that na_ve participants display a high level of agreement when asked to choose or drawschematic representations, or image schemas, of concrete and abstract verbs [Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 2001, Erlbaum, Mawhah, NJ, p. 873]. For example, participants tended to ascribe a horizontal image schema to push, and a vertical image schema to respect. This consistency in offline data is preliminary evidence that language invokes spatial forms of representation. It also provided norms that were used in the present research to investigate the activation of spatial image schemas during online language comprehension. We predicted that if comprehending a verb activates a spatial representation that is extended along a particular horizontal or vertical axis, it will affect other forms of spatial processing along that axis. Participants listened to short sentences while engaged in a visual discrimination task (Experiment 1) and a picture memory task (Experiment 2). In both cases, reaction times showed an interaction between the horizontal/vertical nature of the verb's image schema, and the horizontal/vertical position of the visual stimuli. We argue that such spatial effects of verb comprehension provide evidence for the perceptual–motor character of linguistic representations.
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The tremendous variability within categories of human emotional experience receives little empirical attention. We hypothesized that atypical instances of emotion categories (e.g. pleasant fear of thrill-seeking) would be processed less efficiently than typical instances of emotion categories (e.g. unpleasant fear of violent threat) in large-scale brain networks. During a novel fMRI paradigm, participants immersed themselves in scenarios designed to induce atypical and typical experiences of fear, sadness or happiness (scenario immersion), and then focused on and rated the pleasant or unpleasant feeling that emerged (valence focus) in most trials. As predicted, reliably greater activity in the 'default mode' network (including medial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate) was observed for atypical (vs typical) emotional experiences during scenario immersion, suggesting atypical instances require greater conceptual processing to situate the socio-emotional experience. During valence focus, reliably greater activity was observed for atypical (vs typical) emotional experiences in the 'salience' network (including anterior insula and anterior cingulate), suggesting atypical instances place greater demands on integrating shifting body signals with the sensory and social context. Consistent with emerging psychological construction approaches to emotion, these findings demonstrate that is it important to study the variability within common categories of emotional experience.
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According to perceptual symbol systems, sensorimotor simulations underlie the representation of concepts. It follows that sensorimotor phenomena should arise in conceptual processing. Previous studies have shown that switching from one modality to another during perceptual processing incurs a processing cost. If perceptual simulation underlies conceptual processing, then verifying the properties of concepts should exhibit a switching cost as well. For example, verifying a property in the auditory modality (e.g., BLENDER-loud) should be slower after verifying a property in a different modality (e.g., CRANBERRIES-tart) than after verifying a property in the same modality (e.g., LEAVES-rustling). Only words were presented to subjects, and there were no instructions to use imagery. Nevertheless, switching modalities incurred a cost, analogous to the cost of switching modalities in perception. A second experiment showed that this effect was not due to associative priming between properties in the same modality. These results support the hypothesis that perceptual simulation underlies conceptual processing.
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