Listen to this week’s episode of EBT to hear Melissa, Bridger, and Caleb discuss A. Korner’s 2015 article Routes to Embodiment.

“The past is held here, the present is experienced here, the future is made here” (23:49).

Check out the article here!

Embodiment refers to the “effect where the body, its sensorimotor state, its morphology, or its mental representation play an instrumental role in information processing” (Korner, A., Topolinski, S., & Strack, F., 2015). 

  • The mind is affected by sensations or actions through three different mechanisms.
  • Notably, these effects are all automatic, require little processing resources, and can be triggered unintentionally.
  • These mechanisms are the routes to embodiment.

Three Routes to Embodiment: direct state induction, modal priming, and sensorimotor simulation

  • Direct State Induction
    • Sensations or actions “can directly alter a person’s state of mind, feelings, or information processing” (Korner, Topolinski, & Strack, 2015, p. 2).
    • For example, research has shown that injecting Botox into muscles associated with frowning can reduce negative affect and depressive symptoms.
    • This shows that the way you hold your face directly influences your affective state
    • This changed affective state also influences judgment and behavior
    • Note, this isn’t because the patient thought “I can’t frown, so now I feel better.”
    • Instead, it may be a result of the changed affective state affecting how you are processing your current environment.
  • Modal Priming
    • Sensations or actions can “change how readily specific information comes to mind, thus influencing the mental contents instead of the mode of operation” (Korner, Topolinski, & Strack, 2015, p. 2).
    • Note, modal priming is similar to priming in general
    • Modal priming influences specific associated concepts
    • Specifically, bodily states partly activate associated linguistic and logical concepts
    • For example, smelling something fishy decreases trust in social interactions
    • Interestingly, this occurs even though trust and fish are only correlated with the phrase “…seems fishy.”
    • Keep in mind, modal priming is dependent on our lived experience
    • Importantly, this includes the culture, family, and environment we live in. 
    • Therefore, all associations we make are going to be unique to our own lived experiences.
  • Sensorimotor Simulation
    • Sensations or actions “can lead to compatibility effects with concurrent automatic stimulations changing, for example, fluency and preferences” (Korner, Topolinski, & Strack, 2015, p. 2).
    • When we perceive a stimulus, we internally reenact how we’ve interacted with it
    • Interestingly, your body can have a physiological reaction to watching something happening.
    • To clarify, the simulation system makes it feel as if you are experiencing it, even when you are not.

“We’re not talking about things outside of the room constantly. We’re talking about what’s happening in the here and now because the here and now moment is where we can produce those simulation responses and have an experience with the client and have the desired affect shift” (49:41).

Embodiment in Therapy

  • Remember, therapists use the simulation system all the time.
  • Notably, by reflecting on the mechanism of sensory-motor simulation we produce an affect shift.
  • Importantly, distinguish what is universal without assuming that their associations will be the same as yours.
  • Direct state induction, modal priming, and sensorimotor simulation are tools we can use in therapy all the time.
  • First, teach clients how human bodies like to work.
  • Next, pay explicit attention to the environment.
  • By doing this, the physiological state that helped induce the client’s current state can be intentionally used in the future.
  • Remember to practice therapy in an embodied way
  • For example, reflect on how these different processes show up in your life.
  • Specifically, pay attention to your simulation system.
  • Remember, it is our main method of empathy, connection, and attunement.
  • Finally, invite your clients into a shared experience of that

Disembodied or Dissociated?

  • First, the phrase disembodied is a misnomer.
  • Importantly, a lack of awareness of the way that we’re experiencing embodiment is not the same thing as actually being disembodied. 
  • Note, if you’re still living and breathing then you are embodied.
  • Rather, humans can use dissociation to detach from their embodied experience.

Resources mentioned

  • Ed Tronick – multiple levels of meaning-making (7:27 – Caleb) 
  • Words Were Originally Magic by Steven de Shazer (34:20 – Caleb)
  • Jaak Panksepp – affective neuroscience (36:30 – Caleb)
  • Peter Fonagy – mentalization (45:35 – Caleb)

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