Mind and movement

The traditional view of cognition is that brains are responsible for information processing, and to study that brain and how it works should be done by metaphorically evacuating it from the skull, bolting it on the test bench of the psychology lab and put it through its paces.

As an analogy, you can’t get a comprehensive idea of the performance of the car based on just having its engine being measured in a test bench. You will learn nothing about how the car will handle under different conditions, how comfortable or handy it will be etc.

I don’t want to push that analogy any further, as I think it’s already as far as it uncomfortably goes, but cognitive psychology is well-known for leaving out the (usually) social context in which the individual mind works, and also the body in which it resides, which it moves and which takes it to places. While fields like social and cognition and cultural psychology have tried to bring in the social side of our being, embodied cognition is the keyword for studying how the mind and body work together to instantiate behaviours and cognitive processes.

Music is a great domain to study these issues, and one could argue that in order to study music, one needs to take both the social and embodied contexts into account. In Jyväskylä, we study music-related movement with this in mind; to understand what takes place when someone plays music, we need to see how they use their bodies AND how they use their minds.

That’s a bit of an intro to this interesting paper I recently found. In the paper “Moving Through Time”, the authors from the University of Aberdeen discuss their study, where they tracked the forward-and-back -movement or posture of people who were either recalling their past or predicting what their future would look like. They noticed that when imagining their future (the ability to travel subjectively through time, is called chronesthesia, in case you need to impress someone, or for instance come up with a fancy-sounding excuse for staring blankly ahead) people would be leaning forward, and when recalling the past, they’d be leaning backward.

According to the authors, this demonstrates that this subjective time travel has an observable behavioural correlate and that this is an instance of how the perception-action cycle works. This is a very clear and simple study, and the results look very clean. I wonder if we could somehow extend this to interpersonal or musical contexts… Please leave a comment if you have ideas!

Miles, L. K., Nind, L. K. & Macrae, C. N. (2010). Moving Through Time. Psychological Science. Published online as doi:10.1177/0956797609359333
Pic: Engine test bench http://www.sensycontrol.pl

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