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Embodied Cognition: Somatic Markers, Purposes and Emotional Orientations


We describe the “somatic marker hypothesis” proposed by Damasio (1996) to account for the ability of most people to make decisions quickly and continually in the course of their lives. We relate this hypothesis to two other theoretical constructs, emotional orientations and purposes, which we have used in our research on students' reasoning and teachers' decision making. Given that somatic markers are a part of unconscious mental activity, they cannot be observed by introspective reflection. How then can we research something we cannot see? Beginning with the hypothesis that somatic markers influence actions, we observe, particularly, the actions of student teachers, teachers and children in mathematics classrooms at points where they make decisions. This process is illustrated through examples both of teaching and learning in mathematics, and through the account (see Op't Eynde and Hannula, this issue) of ‘Frank’ reflecting on his decision-making in mathematical activity. We use the case of Frank to illustrate some differences between viewing mathematical activity from our perspective and from those of some other contributors to this special issue. The connections between emotional orientations, somatic markers and purposes are further illustrated by two examples drawn from our research into teacher development and students' reasoning processes.

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Correspondence to Laurinda Brown.

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Brown, L., Reid, D.A. Embodied Cognition: Somatic Markers, Purposes and Emotional Orientations. Educ Stud Math 63, 179–192 (2006).

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Key words

  • embodied cognition
  • emotional orientations
  • reasoning
  • somatic markers
  • teacher education