Three New Articles Not So Obviously On Conceptual Processing

Because conceptual processing supports all intelligent activity , something can  be learned about it from studying just about anything. Just pick your favorite topics, look for conceptual processing, and it’s probably there, taking myriad interesting forms. In this spirit, three new articles examine the processes underlying social priming, eating, and contemplative practices. Although it may not always be obvious how conceptual processing is relevant, trust me, it’s there.

Researchers often complain that there are no theories of social priming (assuming that they are first convinced  it exists, which it obviously does). The theory of situated conceptualization offers an account of social priming, proposing that it  reflects the basic process of multimodal pattern completion inferences  operating throughout cognition. Conceptual processing enters in via the contruct of situated conceptualization from grounded cognition, which assumes that conceptual knowledge about situations produces  inferences to guide intelligent action. From this perspective, social priming reflects the use of past situational experience to guide perception, cognition, affect, and action in current situations.

In our literature review of neuroimaging articles on eating and food cues with Jing Chen as the lead author, food concepts can be seen as  implicit representations of what it’s like to consume specific foods, together with the activities and outcomes of doing so.  We argue that a core eating network–consisting of a ventral reward pathway and a dorsal control pathway–underlies diverse eating phenomena, associated with various eating situations and populations. If you read between the lines, perhaps you’ll see the theme that how you conceptualize food determines how you eat (especially in the section on eating goals, but elsewhere as well).

Perhaps the relevance of conceptual processing is least evident in the article on viewing contemplative practices from the perspective of dual-process theories. Again, though, if you read between the lines, it’s everywhere. On the one hand, conceptualizations inhabit the  habitual implicit responses that occur ubiquitously to perceived stimuli. Indeed, the initial conceptual interpretation of a stimulus typically dominates a person’s affective and behavioral responses to it, sometimes creating dysfunctional mental and physical outcomes. On the other hand, conceptual processes are central to understanding, reappraising, and changing how the mind interprets experience. In other words, reconceptualizing experience is central to successful self-regulation. This article illustrates the rich interplay between dual-process theories and Buddhist contemplative practices, and the potentially productive synergy that results from viewing them together.

If you’re interested in exploring any of these articles further,  the references,  abstracts, and links to them follow.

Barsalou, L.W. (2016). Situated conceptualization offers a theoretical account of social priming. Current Opinion in Psychology, 12, 6-11.

The theory of situated conceptualization is introduced, including its core assumptions about the construction and storage of situated conceptualizations, the production of pattern completion inferences in relevant situations, and the implementation of these inferences via multimodal simulation.  The broad applicability of the theory to many phenomena is reviewed, as is its ability to explain individual differences.  The theory is then applied to social priming, showing that the theory provides a natural account of the diverse forms it takes.  The theory also explains why social priming is difficult to define, why it often reflects modulating factors, and why it can be difficult to replicate.  The importance of studying pattern completion inferences in the context of meaningful situated action receives emphasi

Chen, J., Papies, E.K., & Barsalou, L.W. (2016). A core eating network and its modulations underlie diverse eating phenomena. Brain and Cognition, 110, 20-42.

We propose that a core eating network and its modulations account for what is currently known about the neural activity underlying a wide range of eating phenomena in humans.  The core eating network is closely adapted from a network that Kaye, Fudge, and Paulus (2009) proposed to explain the neurocircuitry of eating, including a ventral reward pathway and a dorsal control pathway.  In a review across multiple literatures that focuses on experiments using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), we first show that neural responses to food cues, such as food pictures, utilize the same core eating network as eating.  Consistent with the theoretical perspective of grounded cognition, food cues activate eating simulations that produce reward predictions about a perceived food and potentially motivate its consumption.  Reviewing additional literatures, we then illustrate how various factors modulate the core eating network, increasing and/or decreasing activity in subsets of its neural areas.  These modulating factors include food significance (palatability, hunger), body mass index (BMI, overweight/obesity), eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating), and various eating goals (losing weight, hedonic pleasure, healthy living).  By viewing all these phenomena as modulating a core eating network, it becomes possible to understand how they are related to one another within this common theoretical framework.  Finally, we discuss future directions for better establishing the core eating network, its modulations, and their implications for behavior.

Barsalou, L.W. (in press). Understanding contemplative practices from the perspective of dual-process theories.  In J.C. Karremans & E.K. Papies (Eds.), Mindfulness in social psychology. Hove, UK: Psychology Press.

After briefly reviewing the history of dual-process theories in cognitive and social psychology, this chapter explores implications of the dual-process perspective for Buddhist contemplative practices, including mindfulness.  On the one hand, the impulsive and habitual processes in dual-process theories offer a natural account of the phenomena that contemplative practices address (e.g., craving, negative emotion, self-interest, mind wandering).  On the other hand, the regulatory and reflective processes in dual-process theories offer insightful perspective into how contemplative practices modulate these phenomena.  Additionally, dual-process theories offer useful accounts of the constant interplay between habitual and regulatory processing in everyday life, and how contemplative practices establish healthy new cognitive, affective, and behavioral habits that replace less healthy well-entrenched ones.  In turn, contemplative practices—especially the collection of Buddhist practices known as the Eight-Fold Path—provide insight into the nature of habitual processing, and offer provocative ideas for developing interventions to change it.