With National Science Foundation support, Dr. Lawrence Barsalou will conduct three years of basic research. The funded project will examine the knowledge that underlies typical high-level cognitive activities such as human discourse, reasoning, or perception. The hypotheses that guide this research are quite new. The key assumption is that high level, abstract, cognitive activities are actually grounded in the situated everyday workings of the body-thus the terms situated cognition or embodied cognition. For example, our knowledge of cars reflects how we interact with cars, what it is like to actually drive a car; to see, hear, touch, and smell a real car; or to feel an emotional response to a car. This view contrasts with a tradition in psychology, whereby our knowledge of the world is assumed to be fully abstract and detached-something like the "centralized" one-kind-of-knowledge-structure-fits-all way in which a computer program can be written. The funded research will test predictions derived from the new alternative. Human participants will perform classic "knowledge tasks," responding to questions such as "What are the properties of a car?" or "Is a tire a property of a car?". Carefully-controlled laboratory experiments have been designed around such questions and tasks to assess whether situated and embodied forms of knowledge are used to perform them. This research has broad implications. First, support for its working hypotheses would motivate big changes in basic scientific theories of human knowledge; this work could contribute to a fundamental shift in how we think about ourselves. Second, the outcomes of this research could have broad applied impact in education (i.e., how best to teach a knowledge domain) or cognitive engineering (i.e., how machines should be designed to best interact with human beings). Finally, this work may suggest new forms of artificial intelligence. Intelligent machines that use situated knowledge, shaped around their peripheral devices, are more robust than traditional centralized intelligent machines. Possible new machines could resemble the robots used in exploration of Mars, for example, a second-generation of robots that better situate themselves in their environments.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Ping Li
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Emory University
United States
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