For those who don’t understand how I connect cognition to performance, please consider this simple example.

Let’s think of a little plant that elementary students, exploring heliotropism, place in the windowsill. The students leave it over the weekend, knowing that it’s growing upright but they’re excited to see how it may change over the weekend.

Photo by Jennifer Moore on

When they return on Monday, they are so excited, surprised, and thrilled to see that the plant actually grew toward the sunlight. It shows knowledge, feeling, and action.

The plant, despite not having a brain, or a nervous system, KNEW where it should grow. It responded MEANINGFULLY to its environment (cognition). And, by showing a preference (toward the sun rather than away from it), according to affective scientist Giovanna Colombetti, shows feeling (affect). To FEEL, according to Colombetti, means to express a lack of indifference. The plant did that by growing in one direction rather than another. To grow toward what it wants, rather than away.

It shows knowledge and feeling. But what is the most interesting to me—is that it DEMONSTRATED that knowledge and feeling to an audience, whether it meant to or not. The kids were amazed, some even applauded. It made an impact on an audience.

That plant PERFORMED, by responding to its environment, by showing affect, and by affecting others in its environment, who are THEN cognitively changed as a result. That, to me, is the essence of performance in the context of 4E cognition.

By showing, it affected others.

So this plant, actually PERFORMED for an audience.

I am, by the way, the first to make this connection and argument!

I am more interested in the performances of people than of plants but there you have it!