New paper: Moving beyond the distinction between concrete and abstract concepts

Barsalou, L. W., Dutriaux, L., & Scheepers, C. (in press). Moving beyond the distinction between concrete and abstract concepts. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2017.0144

Abstract:  From the perspective of the situated conceptualization framework, the primary purpose of concepts is for categorizing and integrating elements of situations to support goal-directed action (including communication and social interaction). To the extent that important situational elements are categorized and integrated properly, effective goal-directed action follows.  Over time, frequent patterns of co-occurring concepts within situations become established in memory as situated conceptualizations, conditioning the conceptual system and producing habitual patterns of conceptual processing.  As a consequence, individual concepts are most basically represented within patterns of concepts that become entrained with specific kinds of physical situations.  In this framework, the concrete vs. abstract distinction between concepts is no longer useful, with two other distinctions becoming important instead:  (1) external vs. internal situational elements, (2) situational elements vs. situational integrations.  Whereas concepts for situational elements originate in distributed neural networks that provide continual feeds about components of situations, concepts for situational integrations originate in association areas that establish temporal co-occurrence relations between situational elements, both external and internal.  We propose that studying concepts in the context of situated action is necessary for establishing complete accounts of them, and that continuing to study concepts in isolation is likely to provide relatively incomplete and distorted accounts.

Keywords:  concepts; abstract concepts; grounded cognition; situated action