School of Education News

Paper from UW’s Nathan examines how our bodies and actions impact thoughts

December 02, 2014

UW-Madison’s Mitchell Nathan is the lead author of a new paper within the paradigm of “embodied cognition,” which explores how our bodies and actions may directly impact our thoughts.

The paper is titled, “Actions Speak Louder with Words: The Roles of Action and Pedagogical Language for Grounding Mathematical Reasoning,” and it’s published in the journal Learning and Instruction.

AudioSlide Presentation
In an effort to make the paper more easily understood, there is an
'AudioSlide' presentation that accompanies the paper and can be
viewed for free.
The paper’s abstract explains how “theories of grounded and embodied cognition posit that situated actions are central constituents in cognitive processes. We investigate whether grounding actions influence reasoning, and how pedagogical language influences the action–cognition relationship.”

It continues: “Undergraduate students (N = 120) generated proofs for two mathematical tasks after performing either grounding or non-grounding actions. Grounding actions facilitated key mathematical insights for both tasks, but did not lead to superior proofs. Pedagogical language in the form of prompts (prospective statements) and hints (retrospective statements) accompanying grounding actions enhanced proof performance on one task but not the other. Results from transfer tasks suggested that participants learned to apply their mathematical insights to new contexts.”

Findings from this research “suggest that relations between action and cognition are reciprocal: actions facilitate insight, while pedagogical language strengthens the influence of task-relevant actions for proof production. Pedagogically supported grounding actions offer alternative ways of fostering mathematical reasoning.”

In an effort to make this research more easily understood, there also is an “AudioSlide” presentation that accompanies the paper and can be viewed for free. This presentation lasts five minutes.

Nathan is director of the Center on Education and Work, and a is faculty member with the departments of Educational PsychologyCurriculum and Instruction, and Psychology.

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