The poverty of embodied cognition

Stephen Goldinger, Megan H. Papesh, Anthony S. Barnhart, Whitney A. Hansen, Michael C. Hout

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


In recent years, there has been rapidly growing interest in embodied cognition, a multifaceted theoretical proposition that (1) cognitive processes are influenced by the body, (2) cognition exists in the service of action, (3) cognition is situated in the environment, and (4) cognition may occur without internal representations. Many proponents view embodied cognition as the next great paradigm shift for cognitive science. In this article, we critically examine the core ideas from embodied cognition, taking a “thought exercise” approach. We first note that the basic principles from embodiment theory are either unacceptably vague (e.g., the premise that perception is influenced by the body) or they offer nothing new (e.g., cognition evolved to optimize survival, emotions affect cognition, perception–action couplings are important). We next suggest that, for the vast majority of classic findings in cognitive science, embodied cognition offers no scientifically valuable insight. In most cases, the theory has no logical connections to the phenomena, other than some trivially true ideas. Beyond classic laboratory findings, embodiment theory is also unable to adequately address the basic experiences of cognitive life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)959-978
Number of pages20
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016


  • Embodied cognition
  • Higher-order cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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