Mind-body Reciprocity.  Applications and Empirical Results in Psychology, Linguistics, and Phenomenology


The perennial philosophical problem of the mind-body relationship has become a topic of intense research activity in the cognitive and social sciences. A variety of empirical studies have resulted, which examine the reciprocity of mind and body theoretically and empirically. The concepts of embodiment, enactivism, and interpersonal synchronization are hallmarks of this research. In the in-depth workshop, we will gather viewpoints from different disciplines –psychiatry, psychology, linguistics and phenomenology. The presentations focus on sensorimotor cycles in an enactive account of mental functioning, on nonverbal synchrony in social interaction, on the gaze patterns indicating the social sharing of attention, and on the embodiment of depression and its treatment by mindfulness-based psychotherapy.


Workshop presenters:


Thomas Fuchs

Section Phenomenological Psychopathology

Psychiatric Department, University of Heidelberg, Germany


Johannes Michalak

Department of Psychology and Psychotherapy

Witten/Herdecke University, Germany


Anja Stukenbrock

Faculté des lettres

Université de Lausanne, Switzerland


Wolfgang Tschacher (chair)

University Hospital of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy

University of Bern, Switzerland



Thomas Fuchs

The Circularity of the Embodied Mind


From an embodied and enactive point of view, the mind-body problem has been refor­mulated as the relation of the lived or subject-body on the one hand, and the physiologi­cal or object-body on the other (“body-body problem”). To further explore this problem, the lecture develops the concept of circularity under three aspects: 

  1. as the circular structure of embodiment, which manifests itself (a) in the homeostatic cycles between brain and body, and (b) in the sensorimotor cycles between brain, body and environment;
  2. as the circular causality which characterizes the relation of parts and whole within the living organism;
  3. as the circularity of process and structure in development and learning.

On this basis, the subjective experience of the lived body may be conceived as the integral of organism-environment interactions, which has a top-down, formative or ordering effect on physiological processes.



Thomas Fuchs, MD, PhD, is Karl Jaspers Professor of Philosophy and Psychiatry at Heidelberg University, Germany. His main areas of research include phenomenological philosophy and psychopathology, embodied and enactive cognitive science, and interactive concepts of social cognition. Recent publication: Ecology of the Brain. The Phenomenology and Biology of the Embodied Mind. Oxford University Press, 2018.



Johannes Michalak

Be Mindful of Your Body: Mind-Body Interaction in Depression and Its Treatment


Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been developed for relapse prevention in depression and has proven its efficacy in a number of clinical trials. Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental and compassionate way. Most mindfulness exercises taught during MBCT are based on the development of a heightened awareness of one’s body. The important role of the body is also stressed in the basis research in mind-body interactions. However, research on the role of the body in depression and in MBCT is relatively sparse. In this presentation an overview of the background and empirical foundation of MBCT will be given. Moreover, studies about the role of the body and mindful body awareness in dysfunctional states of mind in depression will be presented. Finally, the concept of vital energy that is seen as a link between the body and the mind and as an essential basis for contemplative and meditative practice in different traditions (e.g., Qi in the Chinese Daoist and Buddhist tradition, Prana in the Indian Yoga tradition, Lüng in the Tibetian Tradition , Ruah in the Hebrew tradition and Spiritus Sanctus in the Christian tradition) will be discussed.



Johannes Michalak, Ph.D., is a licensed Psychological Psychologist and Full Professor in the Department for Psychology and Psychotherapy at the Witten/Herdecke University (Germany). His research primarily focuses on mindfulness-based interventions and embodiment in mental disorders. He has received funding for his work from several organizations, including the German Science Foundation and the Human Frontier Science Program. Dr. Michalak has written over 180 articles and chapters.



Anja Stukenbrock

Synchronizing Minds and Bodies in Moments of Shared Attention 


Research in psychology, cognitive sciences and linguistics has shown that the ability of human beings to share attention on phenomena in their surroundings is crucial for the development of the socio-cognitive skills for what has been termed "the cooperative infrastructure of human communication" (Tomasello 2008: 7). There are various verbal and embodied ways in which a participant (ego) can direct a co-participant's (alter's) visual attention to a phenomenon he or she wants to share. In face-to-face interaction, the interpersonal coordination of ego's and alter's gaze plays a crucial role in how they synchronize their bodies and minds, jointly orient to visible (or imagined) phenomena and display mutual understanding to each another. 

Based on mobile eye tracking recordings undertaken with two pairs of eye tracking glasses worn by dyads of participants in naturally occurring social interaction, the study presents qualitative analyses of interacting gaze patterns of participants who establish joint attention while being involved in everyday activities such as shopping at a market, looking for a book in the library, visiting a museum. In order to provide for ecologically valid eye gaze data, the study departs from experimental frameworks by taking eye tracking out of the lab and "into the wild". Here, attention-sharing emerges as an embodied, temporally fined-tuned interactional accomplishment of participants jointly on the move in a world of fleeting phenomena that may be noticed, pointed out and shared, or left passing by (Stukenbrock 2018).


Stukenbrock A (2018). Mobile dual eye tracking in face to face interaction. The case of deixis and joint attention. In: G. Brône & B. Oben (eds.). Eye-tracking in Interaction. Studies on the role of ey gaze in dialogue. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 265-302.

Tomasello M (2008). Origins of Human Communication. Cambridge/Massachusetts: MIT Press.



Anja Stukenbrock is Professor of German Linguistics at the University of Lausanne/Switzerland. She held professorships at the universities of Duisburg-Essen and Jena and conducted several projects at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS). Her research areas include, among others, multimodal conversation analysis, interactional linguistics, deixis, mobile eye tracking, linguistic narratology, language and trauma, linguistic nationalism. She is principal investigator of an SNF project on "Deixis and Joint Attention: Vision in Interaction" (DeJA-VI). She is the author of Sprachnationalismus. Sprachreflexion als Medium und Gegenstand kollektiver Identitätsstiftung in Deutschland 1617-1945 (De Gruyter 2005), Deixis in der face-to-face-Interaktion (De Gruyter 2015) ,co-editor of Space in Language and Linguistics. Geographical, Interactional, and Cognitive Perspectives (De Gruyter 2013) and Narrative Bewältigung von Trauma und Verlust (Schattauer 2015).



Wolfgang Tschacher

Nonverbal Synchrony: The Embodied and Extended Self


A growing volume of quantitative research in psychology has shown how social interaction is embodied in nonverbal behavior. In several projects by different labs, using video-analysis tools, actigraphic measures, and physiological measures, the cross-correlations of peoples' time series were used to define 'synchrony'. Synchrony is the synchronization occuring in social interaction displayed by a number of different kinds of nonverbal data (body movement, gesture, posture, markers of the autonomous nervous system, etc.). Synchrony has been found associated with affectivity of communicators and, in psychotherapy, with attachment styles and interpersonal problems of clients. A recent elaboration of the synchrony phenomenon has focused on the definition of a duration measure – the social present (or shared 'nowness') of communicating dyads. We defined the social present as the temporal extension, in seconds, of the window within which the behavioral time series of interacting individuals were significantly correlated. This may yield a novel marker of William James' 'specious present'. A study on the basis of 84 experimental dyads (1) showed that the duration of the social present has an extension of around six seconds (roughly twice the individual nowness of Ernst Pöppel and others). Consistent with the previous results on embodied communication, we found associations of this social present with personality and with state variables of the participants. In general, social synchronization is an important, usually unattended, capacity that regulates communication and expresses participants' engagement and satisfaction with social exchange. Its analysis provides valuable insights into the mind-body reciprocity found in embodied cognition, which in our view underlies processes of consciousness and nowness.


(1) Tschacher W, Ramseyer F, & Koole SL (2018). Sharing the now in the social present: Duration of nonverbal synchrony is linked with personality. Journal of Personality, 86, 129-138. 



Wolfgang Tschacher was born in Stuttgart, Germany, studied psychology at Tübingen University where he received his Ph.D. in 1990. Psychotherapy training in systemic therapy at the Institute of Family Therapy, Munich. Habilitation in psychology and Venia legendi 1996 at University of Bern, Switzerland, professorship in 2002. He currently works at the University Hospital of Psychiatry, where he founded the department of psychotherapy research. His main interests are in quantitative psychotherapy research, time-series methods and experimental psychopathology, with an emphasis on dynamical systems, complexity science, embodied cognition, and phenomena of cognitive self-organization. Organizer of the series of 'Herbstakademie' conferences on systems theory in psychology. For a list of publications and conference information see www.exp.unibe.ch or www.embodiment.ch