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How Our Bodies Shape Our Minds

Dennis Proffitt and Drake Baer

St. Martin's Press

Perception Download image

ISBN10: 1250219116
ISBN13: 9781250219114


304 Pages



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Over decades of study, University of Virginia psychologist Dennis Proffitt has shown that we are each living our own personal version of Gulliver’s Travels, where the size and shape of the things we see are scaled to the size of our bodies, and our ability to interact with them. Stairs look less steep as dieters lose weight, baseballs grow bigger the better players hit, hills look less daunting if you’re standing next to a close friend, and learning happens faster when you can talk with your hands.

Written with journalist Drake Baer, Perception marries academic rigor with mainstream accessibility. The research presented and the personalities profiled will show what it means to not only have, but be, your unique human body. The positive ramifications of viewing ourselves from this embodied perspective include greater athletic, academic, and professional achievement, more nourishing relationships, and greater personal well-being. The better we can understand what our bodies are—what they excel at, what they need, what they must avoid—the better we can live our lives.


Praise for Perception

"What we 'see' isn't limited to our conscious perceptions, what we 'know' isn't limited to what we can speak or even consciously consider. Human behavior is guided by human experience, and shaped in profound ways by the interaction of our physical bodies with the world. If you want to understand people—whether it's to get them to work better, be happier, or to influence the choices they make—you need to start with an understanding of human experience that doesn't treat the body as an afterthought. In Proffitt and Baer's extraordinary new book, you will find yourself delighted and intrigued by all the things you didn't know that your body already did."Heidi Grant, Ph.D., author of Reinforcements and Nine Things Successful People Do Differently

"Perception will open your eyes to the vagaries of human mental life. As infants and toddlers, we created our understanding of the material and social world through active play. You perceive the steepness of stairs relative to your physical fitness. Having few friends and close acquaintances is more hazardous to your health than chain smoking cigarettes. Lucid writing combined with such interesting research findings makes for an entertaining and enlightening read."—Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., author of Transcend and host of The Psychology Podcast

"This endlessly fascinating book makes the case that we can't hope to understand ourselves—or anyone else, for that matter—until we see that we aren't just brains, but brains in bodies, which shape everything we see, think, and know. Reading Perception is transformative, in a profound sense: it adds a whole new dimension to the way you feel yourself to exist in the world."—Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

"Perception offers an engaging and informative account of how our perceptual experience of the world is shaped by our actions, the actions of others, our body, and the social and cultural milieu in which we live. Each chapter is full of historical and contemporary examples of how these factors combine to create our perception of the environment. I was familiar with many of the experimental studies, but the book is chock full of experiments and observations that I had never encountered before. An absolutely fascinating and accessible read."—Melvyn Goodale, University of Western Ontario, co-author of Sight Unseen and The Visual Brain in Action

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt



FOR REASONS THAT NO ONE REALLY UNDERSTANDS, we have little or no memories about what it was like to be an infant or toddler. And, of course, we can’t simply ask infants to report on their experience because they...

About the author

Dennis Proffitt and Drake Baer

DENNIS PROFFITT has helped develop the field of embodied cognition in his near 40-year tenure at UVA. He is a highly sought speaker, and his research has been widely covered in the press. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with his wife, Deborah Roach.

DRAKE BAER is a deputy editor at Business Insider, where he leads a team of 20+ journalists in covering the shifting nature of organizations, wealth, and demographics in the United States. He has been a senior writer at New York Magazine, contributing writer at Fast Company, and the director of content for a human resources consultancy. A speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival and other conferences, he circumnavigated the globe before turning 25. Perception is his second book.

Photo courtesy of author.

Dennis Proffitt

Pasha Kalachev

Drake Baer

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