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CBD 2022: Taking a Situated Approach to the Design of Contemplative Practices and Interventions: A Keynote Address by Professor Lawrence W. Barsalou, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Glasgow

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There’s much to be said for what’s tried and true in contemplative traditions.  Centuries of development and evaluation have established contemplative practices that work. Nevertheless, contemplative traditions have always adapted themselves to the contexts in which they’re practiced.  Buddhism, for example, has evolved considerably as it’s adapted itself historically and geographically (including many current Western forms).  From this perspective, bringing design thinking to bear on contemplative practices and interventions is natural.  How can we design contemplative practices and interventions that are maximally effective in modern contexts?  What principles might inform the design process?  From the perspectives of grounded, embodied, and situated cognition, one potentially relevant design principle is:  Take the situations where people operate into account, along with their embodied action in these situations.  To design contemplative practices and interventions that are effective and easy to learn, work with them in the situations where they’re performed. Many other contextual traditions in personality, social psychology, and cognitive science might make similar recommendations.  

To explore this perspective, Professor Lawrence Barsalou will review the central role of situations in human cognition and behavior, along with substantial differences in how different individuals respond to the same situations (individual by situation interactions). To explain these interactions, he will explore how each individual’s unique cognitive-affective system results from a lifetime of conditioning, thereby producing a unique pattern of responding to the world.  Barsalou will complete his talk by suggesting that the situated action cycle, embedded in a dual-process framework, offers a useful approach to understanding situational conditioning and attempts to change it through contemplative practices.  Of particular interest will be the possibility of taking a situated approach to designing contemplative practices and interventions.  Contemplative constructs such as mindfulness, gratitude, compassion, generosity, wisdom, and well-being will be used to illustrate the situated perspective.

Lawrence Barsalou, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Glasgow, conducting research in the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology. Barsalou’s research addresses the nature of human conceptual processing and its roles in perception, memory, language, thought, social interaction, and health cognition. A current theme of his research is that the conceptual system is grounded in multimodal simulation, situated conceptualization, and embodiment. Specific topics of current interest include the roles of conceptual processing in emotion, stress, abstract thought, self, appetitive behavior, and contemplative practices. His research also addresses the dynamic online construction of conceptual representations, the development of conceptual systems to support goal achievement, and the structure of knowledge. Barsalou’s research has been funded by the US National Science Foundation and other US funding agencies. He has held a Guggenheim Fellowship, served as the chair of the Cognitive Science Society, and won an award for graduate teaching from the University of Chicago. Barsalou is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the Cognitive Science Society, the Mind and Life Institute, and the Society of Experimental Psychologists. He is a winner of the Distinguished Cognitive Science Award from the University of California, Merced. He received a Bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego in 1977 (George Mandler, advisor), and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Stanford University in 1981 (Gordon Bower, advisor). Since then, Barsalou has held faculty positions at Emory University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Chicago, joining the University of Glasgow in 2015.

Taking a Situated Approach to the Design of Contemplative Practices and Interventions is part of the free Contemplation by Design Summit, Oct. 9 - 16 and Oct. 28 - Nov. 2, 2022.

The full Summit schedule is posted at: All events are FREE and online.

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