The hard embodiment of culture

Dov Cohen, Angela K.Y. Leung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The way humans move and comport their bodies is one way they (literally) carry their culture. In pre-wired embodiments, body comportment triggers basic, evolutionarily prepared affective and cognitive reactions that subsequently prime more complex representations. Culture suffuses this process, because (1) cultural artifacts, affordances, and practices make certain body comportments more likely, (2) cultural practices, rituals, schemas, and rules promote the learning of an otherwise underspecified connection between a given body comportment and a particular basic reaction, and (3) cultural meaning systems elaborate basic affective and cognitive reactions into more complex representations. These points are illustrated with three experiments that examine how moral systems can become embodied. We also discuss totem embodiments, in which cultural practices and rituals establish connections between body comportment and complex cultural representations, without the aid of any evolutionarily prepared connection to basic affective and cognitive states.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1278-1289
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Dec 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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