The approach/avoidance effect refers to the finding that valenced stimuli trigger approach and avoidance actions. Markman and Brendl [Markman, A. B., & Brendl, M. (2005). Constraining theories of embodied cognition. Psychological Science, 16, 6-16] argued that this effect is not a truly embodied phenomenon, but depends on participants' symbolic representation of the self. In their study, participants moved valenced words toward or away from their own name on the computer screen. This would induce participants to form a 'disembodied' self-representation at the location of their name, outside of the body. Approach/avoidance effects occurred with respect to the participant's name, rather than with respect to the body. In three experiments, we demonstrate that similar effects are found when the name is replaced by a positive word, a negative word or even when no word is presented at all. This suggests that the 'disembodied self' explanation of Markman and Brendl is incorrect, and that their findings do not necessarily constrain embodied theories of cognition.

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Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Department of Psychology

van Dantzig, S., Zeelenberg, R., & Pecher, D. (2009). Unconstraining theories of embodied cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(2), 345–351. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2008.11.001