Cinema and the Embodied Mind: Metaphor and Simulation in Understanding Meaning in Films

15 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2020

Date Written: July 2017


Only recently, the broad research program of embodied cognition has fuelled a substantial and ongoing body of research at the crossroads of cognitive science and film studies. Two influential theories of embodiment that have received considerable attention among film scholars are: Conceptual Metaphor Theory (originated in the field of cognitive linguistics) and Embodied Simulation Theory (originated in the field of neuroscience). Despite their intimate relationship, both theories have been rarely addressed together in the context of film studies. This article takes on the challenge of combining both perspectives into a unified embodied model for understanding conceptual meaning in cinema. The study is driven by two key assumptions, namely: (1) that meaning in film is metaphorically mapped within our sensory-motor system and (2) that embodied simulation processes in the brain allow for the viewer to infer this meaning from the evidence provided by the film. To clarify both assumptions, the article will present a discussion of the theme of embodiment at three levels of analysis: the conceptual level (how is meaning embodied in the human mind?), the formal level (how is this meaning structured in the visual mode of expression?) and the receptive level (how is the viewer able to infer this meaning on the basis of the evidence provided by the form?). The grounding problem of fictional subjectivity in cinema (that is, how are viewers able to attribute mental states to fictional characters in films?) will be used to test the validity of both claims.

Suggested Citation

Coëgnarts, Maarten, Cinema and the Embodied Mind: Metaphor and Simulation in Understanding Meaning in Films (July 2017). Palgrave Communications, Vol. 3, 2017, Available at SSRN: or

Maarten Coëgnarts (Contact Author)

University of Antwerp ( email )

Prinsstraat 13
Antwerp, Antwerp 2000

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