The 4E-approach to human cognition has opened new perspective to many human activities, to reading and Writing among other things. The 4E-approach enables us to focus on the essence of reading and writing: what in fact happens when we say that we are reading or writing. Unlike in the era of cognitivist view of human action, 4E inevitably differentiates actions in terms of involvement of human body and the interaction with the environment. The sensorimotor contingencies of print media and writing instruments, such as pens and crayons, are fundamentally different from those of digital technologies. For instance, when writing, the motor movements that we perform when writing by hand, provide information about the shape of the letters—There are clear differences between, e.g., the letter “k” and the letter “l”. When typewriting, in contrast, the difference between the same letters is merely that of their position on the keyboard. The process of hitting the correct key is in practice the same, hence there is nothing in the movement itself providing feedback to the brain about the shape of the letter. Several studies have shown that the more pronounced motor trace left when writing by hand facilitates visual discrimination and recall of the letters.
Also, when reading, we engage motorically with a substrate and a device – whether it is a book, a tablet, or a smartphone. The sensorimotor contingencies of these different devices form part of the reading, providing texture, as it were, to the experience. Experiments have shown that the fixity and stability of a text printed on paper provides scaffolding to cognitive processing during reading, making it easier to recall (e.g., where in a text some piece of information was displayed, and facilitating better grasp of the plot of a story). Moreover, studies also show that even young readers report enjoying the tactile feedback of paper, describing how the sense of touch is in fact part of the reading experience.
In this contemporary view, typing and writing are essentially different actions, as well as reading from a display and reading text from a paper. What we currently need is extensive, credible piloting of the application of 4E-principles in societally critical contexts, above all in schools. Only the exemplifying of 4E in real life would bring 4E in the awareness of wider audience.
The 4E-approach provides the conceptual and paradigmatic tools to understand and analyze the verified qualitative and quantitative differences in reading and writing using different technologies. This kind of analysis is essential for the development of reading and writing technologies, education, and even in the pursue of understanding humanity.
To learn more, see the corresponding chapter of Movement Matters (MIT Press, 2022).
The open access version can be found on MIT’s website.
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