Cognition 2017-04-21T23:41:12-04:00

Nonlinear Neuro-dynamics

Embodied Cognition

The belief that cognition is embodied is a radical shift from the classical Cartesian scientific assumptions of the past.  Nonlinear science is the study of how nonlinear systems change over time.  With the advent of nonlinear science, and the different bodies of knowledge that have emerged as a result, it has been established that nonlinear systems are open, changing and dynamic systems (e.g., Chaos, Complexity, Catastrophy theories and Synergetics).

By Zenobia Barlow [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Zenobia Barlow [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Nonlinear systems are those that may be influenced by a variety of variables and therefore, they are often not fully predictable.   In fact, human beings and the weather are examples nonlinear dynamic systems.  According to Fritjof Capra (1996), human beings are embedded in the world and, therefore, are inter-connected, inter-dependent, and open systems.

Open systems take information and energy from the world and feedback energy and matter in order to survive, communicate and maintain themselves.  The mind-brain-body-world connection is one example of a human system’s interconnectedness and interdependence with the world, and of the dynamic exchanges necessary to sustain the life of the entire system. Thus, in order to further the study human system change process and occupation, a more dynamic view of cognition and other occupational performance skills and occupation is required.

Cognition is an embodied process that includes sensory-perceptual, motor, social and emotional processes rather than viewing them all as completely separate or disconnected entities.  To say that cognition is embodied, however, also requires the recognition that the human nervous system is embedded within the body, which is embedded in the world.

FreemanWalter J. Freeman refers to this dynamic interrelationship as nonlinear neuro-dynamics. He is well known for his extensive research and publications on this subject. For more information on Walter Freeman’s work refer to his webpage:
Occupational therapists have also studied and applied concepts from nonlinear science in occupational therapy (OT). In Zemke and Clark’s book Occupational Science, two chapters are dedicated to the application of Dynamic Systems Theory to occupational therapy. In the last decade, several other papers and books have been published by a variety of occupational therapists exploring the application of nonlinear dynamics to occupation, occupational science and occupational therapy.


These are exciting times in the emergence of nonlinear scientific approaches that will help to validate professions that foster dynamic human system change (health, wellness, recovery).  Neuro-occupation has been created and explored by occupational therapists and it is the amalgamation of the neuroscience, nonlinear science and occupation (Lazzarini, 2004).

Pedilla and Peyton (1997) began exploring and publishing on neuro-occupation in the AOTA self-paced course Neuroscience & Occupation: Links to Practice. Dr. Charlotte Royeen also participated in the early conceptualization of neuro-occupation and first offered neuro-occupation as a course at Creighton University.  Further, Royeen’s Slagle lecture in 2002 promoted the application of Chaos Theory through neuro-occupation.  Dr. Ivelisse Lazzarini continued to further develop the conceptualization of neuro-occupation (Lazzarini, 2004; 2005).  Dr. Tina Champagne has also published on the integration of nonlinear science in occupational therapy practice (Champagne, 2011; Champagne, Ryan, Saccamando & Lazzarini, 2007).  Several other occupational therapists have also incorporated nonlinear scientific principles into writings related to different OT frames of reference including Gary Keilhofner (MOHO), Susan Spitzer (Sensory Integration) and Moses Ikiugu.

Power Point Presentation

The following power point presentation is provided to increase the understanding of the potential for the application of nonlinear approaches through a neuro-occupational lens in rehabilitation services. This short course was presented at the 2007 Massachusetts Occupational Therapy Association’s Annual Conference.  Toward the end of the presentation there is a case application from mental health occupational therapy services, which is an excerpt from a paper by Champagne, Ryan, Saccamando & Lazzarini (2007) that has been published by the Emergence: Complexity and Organization journal.

Presentation Title: Neuro-occupation: A Nonlinear Dynamic Approach to Rehabilitation

Presenters: Dr. Ivelisse Lazzarini, Tina Champagne, OTD, OTR/L & Caroline Luby OTD/S


Lazzarini, I. (2004). Neuro-occupation: The nonlinear dynamics of intention, meaning and perception. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 67, 342–352.

Lazzarini, I. (2005). A nonlinear approach to cognition: A web of ability and disability. In, Katz, N. Ed., Cognition & Occupation Across the Lifespan (2nd Ed.). Bethesda, MD: American Occupational Therapy Association.

Champagne, T. (2011). Sensory modulation and environment: Essential elements of occupation (3rd Ed. Rev.). Sydney, Australia: Pearson.

Champagne, T., Ryan, J., Saccamando, H., & Lazzarini, I. (2007). A nonlinear dynamic approach to exploring the spiritual dimensions of occupation. Emergence: Organization and Complexity, 9, 29-43.

The Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and Life Sciences

The Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and Life Sciences (SCTPLS) is an international, multidisciplinary organization, committed to facilitate a scholarly forum to those interested in the research and applications of dynamical systems theory, self-organization, neural nets, fractals, cellular automata, agent-based modeling, and related forms of chaos, catastrophes, bifurcations, nonlinear dynamics, and complexity theories. The SCTPLS website is a valuable resource for people interested in increasing their knowledge in this area. Visit the SCTPLS website at:

A Glossary of Nonlinear Terms
 The application of nonlinear dynamic systems theory requires the understanding of nonlinear terms. The SCTPLS website contains a glossary of nonlinear terms. For access to this glossary visit:

Assessment Tools: Cognition

Over the past decade there has been an explosion in our knowledge of cognition and human system dynamics.  According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), cognition is one of several occupational performance skills (AOTA, 2008).

Occupational therapists promote that engagement in meaningful occupations positively influences health, wellness and participation.  Difficulty with cognitive performance, however, may negatively impact an individual’s ability to participate in meaningful roles, routines and activities.  Thus, when an individual has difficulty with cognition, an assessment of cognitive performance skills may be useful for some of the following reasons:

  • To help appropriately grade activities and physical environments
  • To provide learning and safety recommendations to individuals, caregivers and staff
  • To educate others about the person’s strengths and needs

The following links provide examples of a few of the cognitive assessment tools that may be used by occupational therapists to evaluate cognitive performance skills.  This list is not all-inclusive, rather it is provided to demonstrate information related to OT assessments of cognitive performance, which is part of the overall OT evaluation process.

The ACL Battery

Lowenstein Occupational Therapy Cognitive Assessment

Dynamic Occupational Therapy Cognitive Assessment (DOTCA-Ch)

Middlesex Elder Assessment of Mental Status