Cognitive Science: An Introduction/Situated Cognition

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Situated Cognition[edit]

Situated cognition holds that cognitive processes are deeply influenced by context and the physical and cultural environment in which they are used. [1] In this sense, situated knowledge results from the cultural activity in which the knowledge was developed and applied. [2][3]

Rather than knowledge being considered the accumulation of factual units, situated learning is viewed as the improvement of performance across contextual situations. Relevant to this view of cognition and knowledge is the notion of “cognitive apprenticeship.” This idea holds that optimal learning occurs through mentorship in way that directs knowledge toward applicable situations.[4] This is considered by many to be the main method by which humans evolved to learn, that is, a cultural transmission through direct personal mentorship. [5][6][7][8]

Relation to Embodied Cognition[edit]

Cognitive processes that are situated are context-sensitive, vary with time, action-oriented, and embodied. The effectiveness of cognitive processes profoundly depend on the extent to which a individual interacts appropriately with their contextual, physical, and social settings.[9] This view is closely related to those held by embodied cognition, in which aspects of cognition are interconnected with properties outside the brain. These processes are properly understood as being engaged in a physical or mental task that is contextually, physically, and/or culturally situated. [10] [11]

Embodied human and animal cognition is attuned to be responsive to feedback from the environment in which they pursue their goals. [12] Shattuck and Miller (2006) wrote that “perceptual-motor feedback processes effectively relate animal cognition to the environment and action in a way that a mechanism based on logical (descriptive) inference alone does not capture.” This view holds that learning and expertise are only meaningful if viewed as the skillful application of knowledge in a situated environment. [13]


  1. Norman, D. A. (1993). Cognition in the head and in the world: An introduction to the special issue on situated action. Cognitive science, 17(1), 1-6.
  2. Schumacher, D. J., Englander, R., & Carraccio, C. (2013). Developing the master learner: applying learning theory to the learner, the teacher, and the learning environment. Academic Medicine, 88(11), 1635-1645
  3. Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32–42
  4. Collins, A. (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship and instructional technology. Educational values and cognitive instruction: Implications for reform, 1991, 121-138
  5. Sterelny, K. (2012). The evolved apprentice. MIT press.
  6. Sutton, J. (2013). Skill and collaboration in the evolution of human cognition. Biological Theory, 8(1), 28-36
  7. Markussen Linnet, K., Bols Andersen, L., & Balslev, T. (2012). Cognitive apprenticeship learning in paediatric clinical settings. The Open Medical Education Journal, 5(1)
  8. Parker, S. T., & McKinney, M. L. (2012). Origins of intelligence: The evolution of cognitive development in monkeys, apes, and humans. JHU Press.
  9. Larkin, M., Eatough, V., & Osborn, M. (2011). Interpretative phenomenological analysis and embodied, active, situated cognition. Theory & Psychology, 21(3), 318–337.
  10. Clark, A. (2017). Embodied, situated, and distributed cognition. A companion to cognitive science, 506-517.
  11. Oyserman, D. (2011). Culture as situated cognition: Cultural mindsets, cultural fluency, and meaning making. European review of social psychology, 22(1), 164-214
  12. Pritchard, D. J. (2018). Situated cognition and the function of behavior. Comparative Cognition & Behavior Reviews
  13. Shattuck, L. G., & Miller, N. L. (2006). Extending Naturalistic Decision Making to Complex Organizations: A Dynamic Model of Situated Cognition. Organization Studies, 27(7), 989-1009.