Sunday, April 1, 2012

Artificial smile helps to control anger through ‘embodied cognition’

Forty nine year old man, Mr. S., is a middle level executive in a government department. He is unable to control his anger in the work place. A detailed psychiatric interview established that he is mentally normal but for the lack of anger control. The computed tomography scanning his brain showed no abnormality.
In order to get rid of the anger control problem I advised him to “fit” artificial smile on his face while in the work place. I asked him to try fitting an artificial smile in my presence. He tried and succeeded.
I asked him: “How did you feel while you fitted the smile?”
He promptly replied: “I felt relaxed in mind too.”
I advised him to practice this “fitting of smile” while in his workplace.
But he wanted an explanation as regards to the working of this technique. I told him: “This technique works on the principle of embodied cognition.  I explained to him what embodied cognition is.

What is cognition?
In psychology cognition refers to conglomeration of different mental processes. These processes include attention, remembering, understanding and producing speech and language, solving problems, and making decisions. In cognitive science the term usually refers to an information processing view of an individual’s psychological functions. The term cognition is derived from the Latin word cognoscere which means “to know”, “to conceptualize”, or “to recognize”. The term generally refers to a faculty for the processing of information.

Embodied cognition
Generally speaking, the nature of human mind is largely determined by the form of the human body. All aspects of cognition are shaped by aspects of the body. The aspects of cognition include high level mental constructs such as concepts and categories and human performance on various cognitive tasks such as reasoning and judgment. The aspects of the body include the motor or muscular system, the perceptual system, the body’s interactions with the environment or the outside world and the assumptions of future of the world that are built into the body and the brain. The concept of embodied mind considers the body and the mind as a single unit and is opposed to the concept of dualism that is the separateness of body and mind.

Engaging Muscles of Smile
The principle of embodied cognition generally reflects the idea that the muscular or motor system influences our cognition, just as the mind influences bodily functions. Psychologists Arthur M. Glenberg and associates, working in the laboratory of embodied cognition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have observed that when the participants in the experiments hold a pencil in their teeth engaging the muscles of smile they comprehended pleasant sentences faster than unpleasant ones. And it worked in reverse too. When the participants held a pencil in their teeth engaging the muscles of frown it took longer time to comprehend pleasant sentences. When the muscles of face are engaged in smile the individual “feels” the smile in mind also.

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