Embodied cognition refers to the idea that high-level cognition is tightly linked to our bodily experience of action, perception andinternal states. We explore embodied cognition within the contexts emotion processing and recognition

Some of the research questions we would like to answers are:  
  • how do we recognise others' emotions and mental states? 
  • how is this modulated by individual differences? 
  • how do we acquire/represent/process emotional concepts?

Some of our current projects:

    Where I end and you begin: the role of facial mimicry and interoception in emotion recognition

    Recognising other people’s emotional states is essential for effective social interactions. Recent evidence suggests that when we observe another’s facial expression, we “simulate” it: the brain areas responsible for sending motor commands to the face and receiving sensory feedback from the face are activated as if we were expressing the same emotion ourselves. Often, this cortical simulation is accompanied by activation of the corresponding facial muscles (“facial mimicry”).

    Our past research showed that facial mimicry contributes to recognition of others’ facial expressions; that mimicry contribution is strictly selective to the muscular groups involved in producing the same expressions; that different mechanisms can be involved in implicit recognition and explicit identification of facial expressions. These findings suggest that our ability to recognise others’ emotional expressions relies (at least in part) on our internal simulation of the same emotional states. Here, we use electromyography (EMG), electroencephalography (EEG) and other psychophysiological measures to explore the role of facial mimicry in implicit and explicit attributions of emotional states in healthy volunteers and neurological patients.

    This work is supported by funds from the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Kent (£ 4,849.20) and from BA/Leverhulme (£ 9,401). 
    Giulia Mangiaracina (PhD student) and Marcus Sorensen (Research assistant) work on related projects.

    The role of emotion in acquisition and processing of abstract concepts

    Learning and using abstract concepts like idea or freedom is essential to academic achievement as all high-level societal, cultural and scientific endeavours are heavily based on the ability to grasp and manipulate abstract ideas. Despite this, we know very little about the factors that support acquisition of abstract concepts after the age of 4. 

    Most psychological theories assume that our ability to learn abstract concepts depends solely on linguistic skills (e.g., we learn the meaning of freedom by hearing or reading about it). If that's the case, children with language disorders should be especially impaired in learning abstract concepts. If however, as our recent work shows, emotional development also plays a critical role in learning abstract concepts learning of abstract concepts may be more challenging when emotional responses are attenuated, as may be the case in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

    In this project we aim to:

    1) Provide the first assessment of how abstract knowledge develops in typically developing children, children with Language Impairment (LI) and children with ASD (with or without associated language impairments).

    2) Provide a critical assessment of the role of linguistic and emotional development as precursors for learning abstract concepts, in order to develop criteria to inform teaching and learning strategies and policies.

    We are also interested in how adults represent and process abstract concepts. If emotion has a role in acquiring abstract concepts, this could be reflected in adult processing. 

    The work on abstract concepts acquisition is carried out in collaboration with Gabriella Vigliocco (Experimental Psychology, UCL) and Courtenay Norbury (Psychology and Language Sciences, UCL) and is supported by funding from Nuffield Foundation. The work on abstract concepts processing in adults is carried out in collaboration with Gabriella Vigliocco and David Vinson (Experimental Psychology, UCL).

    Systematic investigation of the role of the motor system in semantic representation

    Semantic knowledge is based on how we perceive and interact with the world. However, it is still a matter of debate to what extent are sensory-motor systems that subserve semantic knowledge acquisition involved in semantic representation. We use Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to measure motor evoked potentials while participants process concepts varying in degrees of sensory-motor involvement: manual actions (e.g., tap), non-manual actions (e.g., kick), concrete ‘graspable’ (e.g., cup) and ‘non-graspable’ (e.g., tree) objects, emotions (e.g., fear), and mental states (e.g., agree).

    This work is supported by seed funds from the School of Psychology, University of Kent (£ 1,681), and is carried out in collaboration with Christos Pliatsikas (Reading).

    The role of emotion in semantic representation

    Effects of the emotional content of words have been reported in many studies, but patterns of results are widely divergent and critically support different hypotheses. Some authors have shown that the discrepancy may be due to lack of experimental matching of the words across emotion categories. 

    Using tightly controlled materials, we have shown:

    1) that emotional content facilitates lexical processing, even in bilinguals, in line with general motivational accounts of emotion processing.

    2) that emotional associations of words affect their processing in different ways depending on whether the words are processed preconsciously or fully consciously.

    This work is carried out in collaboration with Gabriella Vigliocco and David Vinson (Experimental Psychology, UCL).