4E cognition: embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended - New inspirations in education

According to the “4E” approach, cognitive processes as Embodied, Embedded, Enacted, and Extended.

“4E cognition” is a relatively new and growing field of interdisciplinary research. It advocates that cognition is shaped and structured by "dynamic interactions between the brain, body, and both the physical and social environments".

According to Schiavio & van der Schyff (2018), this means that cognition is:

* Embodied: Cognition cannot be fully described in terms of abstract mental processes (i.e., in terms of representations). Rather, it must involve the entire body of the living system (brain and body).
* Embedded: Cognition is not an isolated event separated from the agent’s ecological niche. Instead, it displays layers of co-determination with physical, social, and cultural aspects of the world.
* Extended: Cognition is often offloaded into biological beings and non-biological devices to serve a variety of functions that would be impossible (or too difficult) to be achieved by only relying on the agent’s own mental processes.
* Enactive: Cognition is conceived of as the set of meaningful relationships determined by an adaptive two-way exchange between the biological and phenomenological complexity of living creatures and the environments they inhabit and actively shape.

Dr. Shaun Gallagher, professor at the University of Memphis and philosopher who works on embodied cognition explains that “cognition is not just in the head it's something that involves the body in in general and also the situation of the body in the environment …”

4E cognition is supported by good scientific evidence from a variety of disciplines, including brain science. It is expected that 4E perspective will inspire signifficant improvements in educational environments.


Schiavio, A. & van der Schyff, D. (2018). 4E music pedagogy and the principles of self-organization. Behavioral Sciences, 8(8), 72.

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