In a experiment conducted by MIT professor Josh Ackerman, and colleagues, they discovered that sitting in a hard chair made would-be car buyers more likely to drive a stiff bargain. Ackerman explains, “The way people understand the world is through physical experiences. The first sense they develop is touch.”
While reading an article by designer and consultant Dylan Kendall, Aesthetics and Happiness: How Space Affects Well-Being, I discovered the philosophical, psychological, and scientific field of study, Embodied Cognition.
Embodied Cognition looks at how the environment affects an organisms’ cognitive development. Embodied cognition researchers claim that the way in which an organisms’ sensorimotor capacities interface with the environment determines which cognitive capacities will develop. Embodied cognition explains that if we change aspects our physical selves or our physical surroundings our cognitive abilities change as well.
“In general, environmental factors are very important because they can influence not only what options are available to a particular organism, but also why an organism might choose one option over another when performing a particular goal-directed activity. For instance, weather conditions, the size of the ball, the rules of the game, and whether or not an individual has any broken limbs will most likely factor into their decision to throw the ball, or kick it. Yet, all of this person’s past experiences with an object in these varied activity-based contexts will in some way contribute to their current understanding of the activity. The individual’s understanding of these past experiences is directly informed by the kinds of sensorimotor experiences their form of embodiment allows.”
Developmental psychologist Esther Thelen explains Embodied Cognition:
“To say that cognition is embodied means that it arises from bodily interactions with the world. From this point of view, cognition depends on the kinds of experiences that come from having a body with particular perceptual and motor capacities that are inseparably linked and that together form the matrix within which memory, emotion, language, and all other aspects of life are meshed. The contemporary notion of embodied cognition stands in contrast to the prevailing cognitivist stance which sees the mind as a device to manipulate symbols and is thus concerned with the formal rules and processes by which the symbols appropriately represent the world.”
Our development is influenced by the environment which we live in, our cognitive capacities determined by the embodied experiences we have. All experience is spatial in some sense, our waking life is spent in physical space and our sleeping life often lets us dream of another comprehension of physical space. Therefore, it is crucial that in the development of space that designers are at least are familiar with the fact that space does have a powerful impact on our cognition. As Thelen explains, our cognitive development will affect our memory, emotion, language, and interpretation of the interactions and action which we carry out throughout our life.