Josh Davis

 Joshua Ian Davis, Ph. D.
 Term Assistant Professor

CV: Click here to download
 Department of Psychology

 Barnard College of Columbia University

 3009 Broadway

 New York, NY 10027

 Office: 212.854.6



 "Thinking is for doing."     
             - William James       

In The Embodiment Lab, we explore hypotheses that flow from the assumption that the mind exists to serve the body. Several implications of this philosophical stance that have guided our research are: 1) That it is not only true that the mind can influence the body, but that the body can influence the mind; 2) When we think or feel, our mental representations will be directly related to perception and action; and 3) That studying the perceptual and motor functions of various thoughts, feelings, and brain states can help us to understand why, when, and how they come about.

Embodiment philosophy has been explored by a range of researchers with very different interests. Some recent examples include linguistic metaphor [1, 2], empathy [3], and the construction of robots that can adapt to novel environments [4].

The embodiment approach has the potential to illuminate answers to a number of age-old quandaries because it represents a shift in one of the basic assumptions that underwrote the science and philosophy of mind in the last century [5]. Behaviorism and then cognitive computational models of the mind tried to make sense of human physical and mental activity with little reference to how the physical and mental interacted [6, 7]. Behaviorism basically ignored the role of the mind, conceiving of all human behavior as a series of predictable reactions [8], and cognitive approaches regarded the mind like a computer, where the body hosting the mind played no role in its calculations and had no effect on its capabilities [e.g. 9, 10]. In contrast, embodiment theories attempt to understand the mind as a set of physical processes derived throughout the brain and body of a human, that ultimately serve his/her action in the physical world.

Consider just a few of our favorite findings, inspired by an embodiment philosophy, which illustrate a broad range of phenomena heretofore unexplored or underexplored. 1) People holding a clipboard that was weighted so as to be heavier overestimated the value of various foreign currencies – by indicating how many Euros they believed they would need to pay to exchange currencies [11]. 2) Holding a cup of warm coffee can lead a person to feel socially “warmer” towards another person [12]. 3) A man who, due to a viral illness, lost all cutaneous touch and proprioceptive feedback below the neck, was severely limited in his ability to guess how heavy an item was that another person was lifting [13]. This causality suggests that a mental representation of physical sensation, or specifically a bodily simulation of what it would feel like to lift what he saw another person lift, was necessary to accurately assess the weight of the object. 4) Key brain regions – i.e. the anterior insular cortex – involved in the subjective sense of the physiological condition of the body (e.g. of temperature, pain, muscle position, etc.) also appear to be crucial for normal emotional experience, and a sense of the self [14].

In The Embodiment Lab, we consider classic problems in emotion and social psychology with an eye towards how an embodiment perspective can lead us to ask novel questions. Please read about our research. Whether or not you are persuaded by the philosophical approach, we hope you will find yourself intrigued by the results of studies created by exploring this emerging approach to the mind.


1. Lakoff, G. and M. Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. 1999, New York: Basic Books.

2. Kovecses, Z., Metaphor in Culture: Universality and Variation. 2005, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

3. Jabbi, M., M. Swart, and C. Keysers, Empathy for positive and negative emotions in the gustatory cortex. Neuroimage, 2007. 34(4): p. 1744-53.

4. O'Reilly, R.C., Biologically-based computational models of high-level cognition. Science, 2006. 314: p. 91-94.

5. Damasio, A.R., Descartes Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. 1994, New York: Avon Books.

6. Searle, J.R., The Rediscovery of the Mind. 1992, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

7. Gibbs Jr, R.W., Embodiment and Cognitive Science. 2005, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

8. Watson, J.B., Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychological Review, 1913. 20: p. 158-177.

9. Clark, A., Being There: Putting Brain, Body, and World Together Again. 1997, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

10. Barsalou, L.W., Grounded cognition. Annual Review of Psychology, 2008. 59: p. 617-645.

11. Jostmann, N.B., D. Lakens, and T.W. Schubert, Weight as an embodiment of importance. Psychological Science, 2009. 20(9): p. 1169-1174.

12. Williams, L.E. and J.A. Bargh, Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth. Science, 2008. 322: p. 606-607.

13. Bosbach, S., et al., Inferring another's expectation from action: the role of peripheral sensation. Nature Neuroscience, 2005: p. Published online, 28 August,

14. Craig, A.D., How do you feel - now? The anterior insula and human awareness. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2009. 10: p. 59-70.

15. Craig, A.D., How do you feel? Interoception: The sense of the physiological condition of the body. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2002. 3: p. 655-666.


                                            Barnard Interdisciplinary Workshop on Embodiment

Copyright © 2009-2012 Joshua Ian Davis. All Rights Reserved