In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Situated Cognition

  • Introduction
  • Psychological Foundations: Interactive and Bounded Cognition
  • Situated Cognition in Nonhuman Agents: Robotic, Artificial, and Animal
  • Extended Cognition and Mind: Philosophical Foundations of the Contemporary Debate
  • Extended Cognition and Mind: The Philosophical Debate
  • The Science of Embodiment
  • Theorizing about Embodiment
  • Situated Language-Use and Situated Meaning
  • Group Minds and Socially Distributed Cognition
  • Further Applications

Philosophy Situated Cognition
Robert D. Rupert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0379


Since the mid-1950s, cognition has been the focus of intensive scientific and philosophical study. The emergence of this enthusiasm for the study of cognition, conceived of as the internal process of thought, coincided largely with the appearance of computers. This metaphor for the mind, as a localized machine with discrete boundaries logically calculating its way to solutions, reflects the spirit of early attempts to produce artificial intelligence and remains highly influential. Criticism of the computer metaphor of mind appeared when cognitive science was young, however. Theoreticians of various stripes wondered whether real humans might solve problems in a more distributed and less orderly way: in a way that relies less heavily on representation of the environment than those operating with the computer metaphor of the mind seemed to suggest; or in a way that exploits “irrational” shortcuts; or in a way that involves more physical negotiation with the environment than it does the execution of algorithms in an isolated system. These various critical threads gave birth to a situated view of cognition, according to which intelligent behavior is the result of a hodgepodge of complementary contributions from a variety of interacting sources, many of which lie beyond the boundary of the organism. In the 1990s, strands of this collaborative picture congealed in various quarters—philosophy, robotics, developmental psychology, human-computer interaction, and anthropology, among many others—and under various banners, including “embedded cognition,” “extended cognition,” “extended mind,” “ecological perception,” “embodied cognition,” and “distributed cognition.” A prominent theme in the resulting literature is the extent to which all manner of intelligent performance—from holding a conversation to designing an experiment to fixing an automobile—depend on ongoing interaction with the environment, often via the manipulation of that environment as part of the problem-solving process. Consider the everyday example of rearranging Scrabble tiles in one’s tray as a way of generating more options for word-formation and thus for improving one’s gameplay. Recent decades have seen full-on pursuit of a situated approach to cognition; on this view, we understand cognition only by examining the bodily and environmental context in which intelligent behavior appears. Even on neuro-centered versions of the view, the delicately tuned but apparently nonoptimal ways in which the brain does its work are revealed only when we investigate ways in which the brain cooperates with bodily and external resources.

Comprehensive Resources

The breadth of the discussion concerning situated cognition is astounding. The subsections below provide representative samplings and, in some cases, points of entry into the vast array of topics addressed and perspectives taken, particularly within the philosophical foundations of cognitive science.

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