Cognition beyond representation: varieties of situated cognition in animals

Ken Cheng*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


The notion that cognition comprises more than computations of a central nervous system operating on representations has gained a foothold in human cognitive science for a few decades now. Various brands of embodied, extended, enacted, and distributed cognition, some more conservative and some more liberal, have paraded in philosophy and cognitive science. I call the genus including all such species situated cognition and go on to depict selected cases in nonhuman comparative cognition. Distributed cognition is often used as another term for situated cognition. But behavioral biologists have used the term in another sense, to mean the reduction of cognitive capacities arising from team work in cooperative societies. Hymenopteran insects have been studied as cases. The octopus displays embodied cognition, with some of the computational work offloaded to the periphery. Web-building spiders showcase extended cognition, in which objects external to the animal-the web, in the case of spiders-play a crucial causal role in cognition. A criterion of mutual manipulability, in which causal influence flows both ways between organism and extended object, serves to delimit the scope of extended cognition. Play in dogs features intelligence on-the-run, arising out of action, a key characteristic of enactive cognition. I discuss other cases in which action entwines with central representational cognition to achieve goal-directed behavior. Considering situated cognition in diverse animals leads to myriad research questions that can enrich the field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalComparative Cognition and Behavior Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • action
  • embodied cognition
  • extended cognition
  • enactive cognition
  • distributed cognition


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