The embodied statistician

Elizabeth R. Marsh, Arthur Glenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


How do infants, children, and adults learn grammatical rules from the mere observation of grammatically structured sequences? We present an embodied hypothesis that (a) people covertly imitate stimuli; (b) imitation tunes the particular neuromuscular systems used in the imitation, facilitating transitions between the states corresponding to the successive grammatical stimuli; and (c) the discrimination between grammatical and ungrammatical stimuli is based on differential ease of imitation of the sequences. We report two experiments consistent with the embodied account of statistical learning. Experiment 1 demonstrates that sequences composed of stimuli imitated with different neuromuscular systems were more difficult to learn compared to sequences imitated within a single neuromuscular system. Experiment 2 provides further evidence by showing that selectively interfering with the tuned neuromuscular system while attempting to discriminate between grammatical and ungrammatical sequences disrupted performance only on sequences imitated by that particular neuromuscular system. Together these results are difficult for theories postulating that grammatical rule learning is based primarily on abstract statistics representing transition probabilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 184
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberNOV
StatePublished - 2010


  • Artificial grammar
  • Embodied cognition
  • Fluency
  • Implicit imitation
  • Statistical learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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