Date of Award

Fall 12-10-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

MS Experimental Psychology




Kelly Goedert, Ph,D

Committee Member

Andrew Simon, Ph.D

Committee Member

Susan Nolan, Ph.D


causal learning, embodiment, eye-tracking, causal power


Traditionally, cognitive psychology has assumed a disembodied learner and thinker. However, an emerging approach known as embodiment posits that seemingly irrelevant motor or perceptual aspects of a task can affect higher-level cognition. The findings from such embodiment studies have also been shown to extend into real-world settings. For example, children who were taught mathematical concepts while required to make gestures consistent with the problem’s solution were more likely, on average, to apply the mathematical concepts correctly in the future (Cook, Mitchell, & Goldin-Meadow, 2008). For this specific study, the area of causal learning was examined.

The primary goal of this specific study was to investigate whether elements of embodiment, and any mechanisms therein, would be found in the area of causal learning. That is, would motor actions irrelevant to determining causal relationships affect an individual’s causal learning? In a paradigm similar to that of Goedert and Spellman (2005), participants learned about the effects of different liquids on plant blooming on a trial-by-trial basis. Two separate liquids were used with differing causal power values, one a non-causal condition in which there was no relation between the liquid being used and plant blooming and one in which the use of the liquid was associated with a small increase in plant blooming. During the experiment, participants saw a liquid being applied to the plant or not (i.e., cause present vs. absent). In half of the conditions the cause-effect relation proceeded from left to right (cause à effect) with a liquid shown on the left side of the computer screen, pouring onto a plant on the right and during the other half of the conditions the cause-effect relation was reversed (effect ß cause). Participants then made a prediction as to whether the plant would bloom and received feedback as to whether the plant bloomed. At the end of the series of trials, they made a causal judgment regarding how effective they believed the liquid was in causing plant blooming. In order to assess embodiment effects, participants were randomly sorted into one of three movement conditions in which they moved marbles left-to-right, right-to-left, or performed no movements at all. Participants in the movement condition performed the movements throughout the experiment. A secondary goal of the experiment was to determine the mechanism of any observed embodiment effects by assessing reaction time and eye-movements. An issue with microphone sensitivity rendered reaction times unmeasurable, however, eye-movements were able to be analyzed.

Because of an order effect in the causal ratings, I analyzed the causal ratings participants performed first, but did not find an effect of embodiment. The data did not support the hypotheses and an effect of contingency was not found; furthermore, the contingency effect trended in the direction opposite the hypothesis. However, eye tracking data revealed a significant interaction of place fixation by trial type, suggesting participants spent more time looking at goal-oriented directions. This study serves as a preliminary examination of embodiment in causal learning and suggests that a refinement of the methodologies used is necessary.