Melissa, Caleb, and Bridger continue their series on embodiment with “The Scaffolded Mind” by L. Williams, J. Huang, and J. Bargh.


  • Every person’s individual experience is going to influence how they’re making sense of the world.
  • Our body and mind function simultaneously.
  • Humans have an efficient way of organizing experience and processing information. 
  • Importantly, this organization doesn’t rely on language alone.
  • Instead, what is held in the body is referenced.
  • This allows us to move into deep complexity and think much faster.

Embodiment and Scaffolding

Check out page 2 of the article for a thorough explanation of scaffolding.

  • When an abstract concept is scaffolded onto a foundational concept these concepts become associated (page 2).
  • Then, complex ideas are created as new stimuli and concepts are added.
  • You’re able to mentally represent, or have an embodied sense, of these ideas.
  • Intercontemplation and environmental exploration add to the accuracy and complexity of these mental representations.
  • Babies constantly put things in their mouths as a form of environmental exploration.
  • These little experiments improve their ability to correctly interact with their world. 
  • Importantly, scaffolding the brain and learning from physical to abstractions is an emergent process.
  • In other words, when two physical sensations come together in my brain, they make complex meaning
  • Eventually, this becomes “feels like a weight on my shoulders” or “spicy experience.”

Learning Through Our Bodies

  • Melissa’s example of Nora licking the trampoline netting (9:19).
  • As a child, you learn to make sense of the world through physical interactions with it.
  • Genetic coding gives you some preset templates of how you experience stimuli.
  • Through these genetic templates and physical interactions, you create mental structures to organize your lived experience.
  • If we can learn to intentionally work with the body, it becomes a place of meaning-making and lesson learning.
  • This is why somatic therapies work. 
  • To state it clearly, we can get more done therapeutically when we work directly with the body.

Embodiment and Abstractions

  • Our brains make meaning of similar stimuli.
  • This is true even when they don’t look similar on the outside.
  • When exposed to new stimuli, we run through our existing templates to make sense of it.
  • This means we don’t need to experience it personally to know what to expect from it.
  • Sensorimotor experiences become the foundation for every abstract thought we have.
  • Humans across cultures have unity around abstract concepts.
  • This is because all humans have similar bodies to inhabit the world in and we understand the world through our bodies.

Scaffolding and Embodiment in Therapy

  • Caleb and detached language (26:10).
  • Remember, your mind is built upon your body and your physical experience.
  • Therefore, there is a wealth of information in the clients embodied experience of  a situation
  • Melissa’s example of the wallflower (27:38). 
  • Remember, every function of the body is templated on previous experience.
  • Even your mind, ideas, and thoughts are themselves so intimately and dependently connected to your physical experience. 
  • That link is so profound and strong it also works in the inverse.
  • Melissa’s example of the feedback loop of information (30:38). 
  • Bridger’s example of Bear and his newborn daughter (35:24).


Williams, L. E., Huang, J. Y., & Bargh, J. A. (2009). The Scaffolded Mind: Higher mental processes are grounded in early experience of the physical world. European journal of social psychology, 39(7), 1257–1267. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.665

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