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Embodied perception between life and death: The animate/inanimate-distinction in action and language perception

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The core theoretical contribution of embodiment to cognitive science refers to the existence of a representational system that specifically encodes knowledge of man’s bodily existence along with the body’s functional capabilities in interacting with the world. The existence of such a specific knowledge system implicates that the perception of animate agents, especially that of conspecifics, constitutes a special event in the perception of objects in the environment radically different from the perception of inanimate objects. In this talk, I will start by reviewing empirical evidence supporting the idea that this animate/inanimate-distinction develops early in life based on a foundational body scheme that provides an innate link between the perception and production of animate actions. I will show that the capacity to categorize things in one’s environment as animate beings or as inanimate objects is a fundamental cognitive ability that, in addition to object perception, also affects visuomotor coordination, action perception and language comprehension. I will close with a short portrayal of a current project that aims to test the hypothesis of a domain-general process of animacy categorization.

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