LINGUIST List 23.2262

Fri May 11 2012

Review: Cognitive Science: Schubert & Maass (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 11-May-2012
From: Stephen Lucek <>
Subject: Spatial Dimensions of Social Thought
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EDITORS: Schubert, Thomas W. and Maass, AnneTITLE: Spatial Dimensions of Social ThoughtSERIES TITLE: Applications of Cognitive Linguistics [ACL] 18PUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2011

Stephen Lucek, Centre for Language and Communication Studies, Trinity College Dublin

SUMMARYWritten by the attendees of a small Expert Meeting, co-hosted by the EuropeanSocial Cognition Network and the European Science Foundation, and held in Venicein 2008, these 13 essays (plus Introduction) span the breadth of modern spatialcognition research. The very notion of spatial cognition, like most topics incognitive science, appears to be intuitively clear on the surface. However, thedepth of research and theory contained in this volume demonstrates how intricateand applicable spatial cognition really is.

To this end, the authors represent a wide distribution across academia fromEpidemiology to Neurology to Psychology. This distribution informs the ensuingdiscussion and allows for a considered approach to spatial cognition. Whilelinguists are thin on the ground here, there is plenty of cross-disciplinaryapplication to be found in these essays.

The Introduction goes some way to explaining the book's central themes. A briefoverview of the embodied cognition approach and biases on the horizontal planeare offered as baselines for many of the essays that follow, which are broadlydivided into two sections: Section A concerns spatial embodiment, while SectionB deal with the horizontal plane and biases.

In the first essay, Tversky deals with the imperfect nature of spatialknowledge, how it can be skewed and how it can be experienced. Grouping objectstogether by type and by size is just one way in which we can manipulate space inorder to make tangible the abstract notion of space. Another way is by metaphorand the proclivity to humanise spatial experiences through bodily metaphors(e.g. head of committee, foot of a mountain). Finally, locating objects in theworld and the use of frames of reference present Tversky with a final method ofrealising space through language.

Santiago, Román and Ouellet follow with their comprehensive review of theflexible foundations theory of abstract thought. This review begins with SolidFoundations View (SFV) which itself is an amalgamation of various theories fromConceptual Metaphor theory (CMT): image schema derived from repeated exposure tostimuli (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, 1999; Gibbs & O'Brien, 1990; Johnson, 1987).These image schema allow for the development of metaphors. As such, metaphorsprovide the real-world groundings of SFV. Weaknesses of CMT (namely, the lack ofuniversality of primary metaphors (see Rakova, 2002 and Kövecses, 2005)) areexploited in such a way as to necessitate the Flexible Foundations Theory (FFT).Numerous examples of cognitive flexibility emerge from evidence of, inter alia,antithetical metaphors (e.g. time-moving) that exist inter- andcross-culturally. At the centre of FFT is the existence of multiple parallelmetaphors and models residing in the long-term memory without conflict. Thesemetaphors and models inform the working memory, allowing divergent experiencesof similar stimuli. Two experiments are described and the results show that theflexibility of working memory to adapt metaphors and models along with itsability to learn novel solutions provides for the possibility of a flexiblefoundation for abstract concepts.

Estimates are the focus of the third essay. Liberman and Förster discuss thefour dimensions of judging psychological distance in the absence of directexperience: temporal distance (when), spatial distance (where), social distance(who), and hypotheticality (likelihood). Their thesis is based on twoassumptions about psychological space: that the four dimensions listed above areinterrelated and that mental construal is needed to make up for not experiencingthe distance directly. A review of literature that has tested these dimensionsleads the authors to the conclusion that spatial distance is a primaryexperience that can be understood via the dimensions listed above.

In the fourth essay, Schnall explores factors that influence the perception ofpersonal space. We see here a bigger emphasis being placed on embodiment: fromembodied cognition, a line is drawn to embodied perception and judgment tasks.Variables from national borders to the mood of the informant to carrying aweighted knapsack are described and linked to a commonality of perception.

Power metaphors are the focus of the fifth essay. Here, Schubert, Waldzus andSeibt discuss the ubiquity of power and how it is perceived in the physicalworld. From there, metaphors are linked to real world experiences and as suchare reciprocals of one another. Height, facial features and posture aredescribed as variables that lead to the perception of power non-verbally whichcan be interrelated and can also be applied to abstract shapes. Semanticnetwork, Simulation and Conceptual metaphor theories are all considered asexplanations of how the space/power interface works for non-verbal cues. Theauthors then propose a model of schematisation and reification of perceptualsymbols combining the individual experience with the cultural experience.

Part B begins with Chatterjee's treatment of directional asymmetries. Eventstructure is proposed as primarily existing in on a left-to-right trajectory inleft-to-right reading cultures with the agents to the left andrecipients/patients to the right. Thus, an examination of the orientation of thesubjects of portraits shows four potential explanations for the preference ofright cheek depiction (signifying agency) over left cheek depiction (signifyingpassivity): gender bias, historical shift, social distance, and characterattributes. Inferences by viewers of these portraits lead to assumptions ofpower and implied motion. Reading and writing direction mitigates the effects ofleft-to-right biases in perception of power and implied motion.

Brady's essay on face perception makes the case that there is a left-right biasin perceptions that reflect an asymmetry in the brain. Again, there is apreference in left-to-right reading and writing cultures for left-left compositeimages, whereas that preference is inverted for right-to-left reading andwriting cultures. This holds for familiar faces and unfamiliar faces (see Brady,Campbell & Flaherty, 2004, 2005). This leads to the question of hemisphericasymmetry and its effect on perception biases and word recognition. Theconclusions point the reader towards a hemispheric asymmetry bias rather than areading and writing direction bias as the impetus for face perception preference.

Representational drawing is the medium of choice for the eighth essay. Vaidexamines the directional asymmetry. The possible sources for this asymmetry are:hemispheric asymmetry, reading and writing direction, neuromuscular limitations,and motoric influence. Each of these sources is fully explained and explored indetail and recommendations are made for future research.

The effect of reading direction in nonverbal tasks is the focus of Chockron,Kazandjian and De Agostini. It is the acquisition of reading and writing skillsthat prove to be the impetus for directional biases in nonverbal tasks, but thatis not to say that these biases are not present before the acquisition ofreading and writing. However, a consensus cannot be drawn from the limitedamount of right-to-left reading and writing data. The future of research in thisarea lies here.

The analysis of artwork leads Suitner and McManus to conclusions on SpatialAgency Bias (e.g. Chatterjee, Maher & Heilman, 1995; Maher, Chatterjee & Rothi,1995). The scientific study of art becomes a fertile meeting point where newideas in both disciplines can flourish. Explanations for biases in art historyrange from agency to sex of the artist and stereotypes of roles within cultures.An important point that the authors make here is that the inferences drawn fromextant research can be applicable not just to high art, but also to contemporaryvisual media.

Suitner and Maass return the focus to embodiment in their essay on writingdirection as it applies to agency and gender stereotyping. Different types oforthography and writing direction are considered in detail as a foundation forspatial biases. Here, we are not dealing with reflections on visual media, butrather how spatial biases influence spatial expression. A brief treatment of theorigins of writing systems lends credence to their arguments and provides anavenue for further research.

The final essay stays with gender issues and concerns biases in graphs containedwithin scientific journal articles. Hegarty and Lemieux contend that there is ageneral bias in graphical representations of data that goes beyond randomchance. Placing male results before female results is a byproduct of genderbiases based on power and agency and varies between disciplines within academia.

EVALUATIONOn the whole, this collection of essays gives a broad picture of the spatialelements of social psychology. It goes beyond a mere pulse-taking of this areaof study. Several of the essays (Santiago, Román and Ouellet; Schubert, Waldzusand Seibt; Brady; Vaid; Chockron, Kazandjian and De Agostini; Suitner andMcManus; and Hegarty and Lemieux) emphasise the need for future research andposition their own papers as starting points of open-ended questions.

Another strength is the repetition of and expansions on themes. The embodimentview is a common methodological jumping-off point that runs through bothsections of this collection. Viewed purely as a subset of essays on writingdirection, this volume provides a wealth of knowledge and provides an excellentguide to what has been done in the area. An equal emphasis on right-to-leftreading and writing systems would have added gravity to the discussion. Thatbeing said, the overwhelming argument from the authors here is that not enoughresearch has been carried out on right-to-left systems.

There are a fair number of typographical and proofing errors in the book, butnone that detract from the essays. The length of the second essay isdisproportionate to the rest of the volume and may have benefitted from a heavyedit, particularly in the literature review (sections 2 & 3). While this essaydoes introduce a novel concept in metaphoric projections -- and read on its own,it most likely would stand up as a very strong essay -- its inclusion in thiscollection nearly eclipses all around it. Perhaps a discrete volume is tofollow, as the Flexible Foundations Theory is certainly worthy of considerationand application.

While much of this volume will not be of interest to linguists, it is certainlya multidisciplinary effort. The heavy emphasis on social psychology (as thetitle suggests) is evident. That being said, there is a great deal ofcross-disciplinary appeal and applicability. For those who work with writingsystems, this will be a particularly interesting read.

REFERENCESBrady, Nuala, Mark Campbell & Mary Flaherty (2004). My left brain and me: adissociation in the perception of self and others. Neuropsychologia 42, 1156-1161.

Brady, Nuala, Mark Campbell & Mary Flaherty (2005). Perceptual asymmetries arepreserved in memory for highly familiar faces of self and friend. Brain &Cognition 58, 334-342.

Chatterjee, Anjan, Lynn M. Maher & Kenneth M. Heilman (1995). Spatialcharacteristics of thematic role representation. Neuropsychologia 33, 643-648.

Gibbs, Raymond & Jennifer O'Brien (1990). Idioms and mental imagery: Themetaphorical motivation of idiomatic meaning. Cognition 36, 35-68.

Johnson, Mark (1987). The body in the mind. Chicago: The University of ChicagoPress.

Rakova, Marina (2002). The philosophy of embodied realism: A high price to pay?Cognitive Linguistics 13, 215-244.

Kövecses, Zoltan (2005). Metaphor in culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: TheUniversity of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mindand its challenge to Western thought. New York: Basic Books.

Maher, Lynn M., Anjan Chatterjee & Leslie J. Rothi (1995). Agrammatic sentenceproduction: The use of a temporal-spatial strategy. Brain and Language 48, 105-124.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERStephen Lucek is currently a PhD candidate in the Centre for Language andCommunication Studies at Trinity College Dublin, where he is carrying out asociolinguistic and semantic study of the language of space in IrishEnglish. His research interests include language change, dialect contact,global Englishes, communities of practice, discourse analysis, corpuslinguistics and cognitive semantics. He has previously worked as an editor.

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