Special Issue Article
The scaffolded mind: Higher mental processes are grounded in early experience of the physical world
Article first published online: 13 NOV 2009
Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
European Journal of Social Psychology
Special Issue: Modalities of Social Life: Roadmaps for an Embodied Social Psychology
Volume 39, Issue 7, pages 1257–1267, December 2009
How to Cite
Williams, L. E., Huang, J. Y. and Bargh, J. A. (2009), The scaffolded mind: Higher mental processes are grounded in early experience of the physical world. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 39: 1257–1267. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.665
- Issue published online: 13 NOV 2009
- Article first published online: 13 NOV 2009
- Manuscript Accepted: 15 MAY 2009
- Manuscript Received: 1 FEB 2008
- National Science Foundation predoctoral fellowship to Williams. Grant Number: MH60767
It has long been a staple of psychological theory that early life experiences significantly shape the adult's understanding of and reactions to the social world. Here we consider how early concept development along with evolved motives operating early in life can come to exert a passive, unconscious influence on the human adult's higher-order goal pursuits, judgments, and actions. In particular, we focus on concepts and goal structures specialized for interacting with the physical environment (e.g., distance cues, temperature, cleanliness, and self-protection), which emerge early and automatically as a natural part of human development and evolution. It is proposed that via the process of scaffolding, these early sensorimotor experiences serve as the foundation for the later development of more abstract concepts and goals. Experiments using priming methodologies reveal the extent to which these early concepts serve as the analogical basis for more abstract psychological concepts, such that we come easily and naturally to speak of close relationships, warm personalities, moral purity, and psychological pain. Taken together, this research demonstrates the extent to which such foundational concepts are capable of influencing people's information processing, affective judgments, and goal pursuit, oftentimes outside of their intention or awareness. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.