The members of this group examine cognition as highly contingent on structures and functions of physical body and the external material environment. The main premise from which the embodiment cluster departs is the idea that not only brain but also physical/motor representations play a constitutive role in cognitive processing. Furthermore, an actor’s physical, social and cultural context affect and scaffold one’s cognitive system (extended mind hypothesis). The main objective is to understand how bodily positions, body distortions and material objects enable and influence cognition in rituals and religious behavior.
As a part of the cluster, three main areas of research are being investigated:
1. The contribution of material artifacts to the cognitive processing of ritual action and their ability to decrease the cognitive load caused by the action representation of a ritual sequence;
2. The ways in which certain religious practices, and particularly various techniques of Buddhist meditation, can influence the concept and representation of the body.
3. The way particular bodily postures and movements are used in religious practices and how they may influence cognition and emotional states.
Feeling the kneeling
Eva is interested in how bodily positions may influence feelings, emotional states and self-perceptions. More specifically, she is interested in he way different rituals use different bodily positions and how those positions may influence the ritual participants. Her project is based on the bodily feedback hypothesis, which states that changes in bodily position can lead to changes in emotional states. More generally, she is working on the concept of embodiment, promoted by such scholars as George Lakoff or Lawrence Barsalou. Those scholars drew attention to the link between usage of the perceptional and “bodily” metaphors in language and the actual perceptions. The symbolic and physiological “meaning” of the ritual might thus contribute to creating one´s perception of role and identity during the ritual. The questions in her project are: What is the role of specific body postures in ritual? What emotional reactions and states are attained (and expected to be attained)? How do those emotions contribute to the formation (and re-formation) of a person’s identity?
Where are my legs?
Silvie Kotherová is interested in Eastern religious traditions, especially Buddhism. She focuses on Buddhist meditation practices and the research of the phenomenology of altered states of consciousness.
Her project focuses on the mind–body relationship. The study of Buddhist meditation practices reveals many reports of body schema distortion (“loosing hands”, “missing legs”, disappearing of other body parts, out of body experience or near death experiences). Such states are usually referred to as “altered states of consciousness”. But are they really special? Or is it possible to find them in our everyday life? There is a considerable body of evidence suggesting that these types of body schema distortion mostly identified in a much more common altered state of consciousness: sleep. They are called sleep paralysis and hypnagogical states. Silvie wishes to take a closer look at these phenomena by examining Buddhist meditation practices in a laboratory setting using standardized methods of behavioral measures and questionnaires, in order to explore the connection between mind and body and test whether it is possible to influence bottom-up processes in a top-down manner?
Theory of Mind and Cognitive Load
My research explores the way material objects affect and support individual cognitive abilities. My work refers to recent theoretical development in cognitive science that understands thinking as nvironmentally seated and situated process.I intend to apply an experimental insight to broader theorizing of how ritual objects are bound to ritual acts and to the greater framework of ritual behavior.
One of the core ideas behind my research is that in the long run people tend to use those objects that are somehow better accustomed for the immediate purposes of practical actions than others. As a result, these objects become well-seated in our behavioral routines and in turn enable and reinforce these practices. We can say that material objects used with ease will possess a relative evolutionary advantage and become preferred, culturally-established tools. I believe that these evolutionary mechanisms that withdraw certain objects or their significant features from a reproduction cycle are based on proximate constraining mechanisms, and that cognitive demands caused by the use of an object is one of those constraining features.
This theory suggests that religious ritual participants reason about items of action and relations among them. The experiment aims to explore the effect of representation of the multilevel Theory of Mind on the depletion of our cognitive resources. It also compares differences in cognitive demand caused by both human and non-human items of ritual action. It is partly based on the experiment conducted by Kinderman, Bentall and Dunbar in 1998
Kristoffer L. NielboJesper Sørensen
Material Artifacts and Action
Our understanding of everyday activities is guided by intuitive expectations about items of action and an understanding of their relevancy and relatedness to the overall structure and goal of perceived action. This study assumes that the correspondence of the function of an object with the situation of its use helps to understand a given action. It also argues that situations comprising objects that are functionally inappropriate in the given context will demand more cognitive resources when observed and vice versa.
John J. McGraw
Ritual Objects Priming Study
We would like to investigate to what extent material artifacts, used as primers, affect decision-making in a mundane activity. Given the results of previous studies of priming effects (Bateson et al. 2006), we expect these objects to affect levels of monetary contribution to a common pool. From one testing period to another, we will alter the ritual object to determine its effect on a voluntary contribution. We plan to use already established natural settings complemented with a special experimental set up of material objects that will be gradually modified in the course of experiment.