An Embodied Account of Language Comprehension and Why You Should Care

Arthur M. Glenberg

University of Wisconsin

How does language convey meaning? According to the computational theory of mind, meaning arises from the manipulation of abstract, amodal, arbitrary symbols. In cognitive psychology, this theory is reflected in semantic networks, vectors computed from high-dimensional spaces, and propositions. Unfortunately, Searle's Chinese Room Argument demonstrates that the idea is vacuous, and recent data from neuroscience as well as psychology demonstrate that the idea is wrong. Instead of being abstract, cognitive representations are grounded in perception and action, and hence are embodied. The Indexical Hypothesis describes how the words and grammar of language contact embodied symbols. Furthermore, the IH claims that the core understanding of both concrete and abstract ideas is related to bodily action. I will discuss data supporting this claim, namely how the mere understanding of sentences describing directional actions can interfere with the actual execution of responses in the opposite direction.