Ebook: Enacting Intersubjectivity
In recent years a new trend in socio-cognitive research investigates into the mental capacities that allow humans to relate to each other and to engage in social interactions. One of the main streams is the study of intersubjectivity, namely the ‘mutual sharing of experiences’, conceived of as a basic dimension of consciousness on which socialness is grounded. At the very heart of contemporary studies is an intense debate around some central questions that concern the nature and forms of human intersubjectivity, its development and its role in situated joint activities. Striving to achieve a unified theoretical framework, these studies are characterized by a strong interdisciplinary approach founded on philosophical accounts, conceptual analysis, neuroscientific results and experimental data offered by developmental and comparative psychology. This book aims to give a general overview of this relevant and innovative area of research by bringing together seventeen contributions by eminent scholars who address the more relevant issues in the field.
Intersubjectivity is a central theoretical construct intersecting various disciplines. As a research field it is therefore characterised by its being the meeting point of areas and methodologies even very different from each other. In the history of science, when this sort of overlapping takes place, we witness the gradual emergence of ever more complex theoretical constructs, which can become the conceptual ground for building more general theories.
On the other hand, the interest in the area of intersubjectivity arises from the growing awareness of the intrinsically relational nature of the human species, highlighted by numerous recent discoveries in various fields – e.g., neuropsychology, cognitive science, ethology – so much so that some scholars have coined for our species the term “ultra-social species”.
The landscape of disciplines involving theoretical or experimental research pertaining to the area of intersubjectivity is vast: neuropsychology and neurosciences, consciousness, emotions, embodiment, the “relational” mind, sharing other people's mind states, and more generally various areas of philosophy, ethology, general and evolutionary psychology, social and cultural psychology, clinical psychology and psychiatry, psychoanalysis.
The intersubjectivity construct is therefore utilized on various levels, corresponding to the specific research areas. On one hand, this points to the power and fecundity of the construct; on the other it may be a source of problems – communication, interpretation, explanation and comparison problems – when the meeting involves disciplines that may have, and frequently inevitably do have, different theoretical presuppositions and research methodologies. It then becomes truly important – as wonderfully exemplified by this volume – to build opportunities for comparison and debate, i.e. “frontier territories” where the exchange needed for the growth of shared multidisciplinary knowledge takes place. Such a sharing is essential in order to build more general and more structured theories, whose “fallout” may support the creation or improvement of practical applications or more generally increase our understanding of complex phenomena pertaining to our species.
The issue of practical application is particularly dear to me. When a student asks the Clinical Psychology professor what impact intersubjectivity research has on clinical practice, the answer is that it deals with concepts that are fundamental for the understanding of the therapeutic relationship. They are essential for building that relational field in which the sharing of meaning leading to the therapeutic alliance develops, the field supporting the client's exploration of new ways of functioning and new ways of understanding him or herself in relationship with others. In some particular studies the concept of intersubjectivity has played a crucial role, e.g. the research about autism or that about attachment. But the most relevant aspect for clinical practice is that, when the therapist is aware of her own embodied and intersubjective nature, she will read differently the client's narrative, the client's relationship with her and her own relationship with the client. This applies also to ideas, constructs and relational modalities of the client. Also the therapeutic techniques, such as self-description and autobiography, will have a different meaning and will be more oriented toward viable solutions.
In fact, a good theoretical model improves the use of therapeutic techniques and supports the growth of both self-knowledge and knowledge of the other. This does not just concern the clinicians, but obviously also teachers, trainers, and people operating in a group or institutional contexts or in the media. We need only be reminded of the complexity of the teacher-student relationship, or of the role of an actor in film or theatre. Generally speaking a better understanding of interactive mechanisms can benefit all those who are active in social contexts by providing new and useful conceptual tools. For this reason the present volume, with its high and clear scientific character, by also exploring the frontiers and perspectives of related disciplinary areas, can be of particular interest for a much larger public than the specialised readership.
Prof. Giorgio Rezzonico, Full Professor of Clinical Psychology, Director of the Postgraduate School in Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, University of Milan-Bicocca, Milan, Italy
The past decade has witnessed a growing interest in the study of the self-other relation; as a result, there has been a convergence of theoretical thought and research in the cognitive sciences, social cognition, and the neurosciences. At the moment, probably under the impact of recent mirror neurons findings, one notices a gradual but significant coming together of disciplines whose research tradition used to be grounded in areas often far apart from each other. In particular, it may legitimately be claimed that, albeit from different perspectives, the study of inter-subjectivity has laid the foundations for a constructive dialogue between these disciplines generating a common ground for the study of interpersonal relations. The present contribution aims to show that, if we take this stance, some concepts close to the situated cognitive sciences, such as embodied cognition and enaction, become neurobiologically plausible in research on mirror neurons, and manage to shed new light on what social cognition has known for some time on the relation between human beings.
Most of our social interactions rest upon our ability to understand the behavior of others. But what is really at the basis of this ability? The standard view is that we understand the behavior of others because we are able to read their mind, to represent them as individuals endowed with mental states such as beliefs, desires and intentions. Without this mindreading ability the behavior of others would be meaningless for us. Over the last few years, however, this view has been undermined by several neurophysiological findings and in particular by the discovery of mirror neurons. The functional properties of these neurons indicate that motor and intentional components of action are tightly intertwined, suggesting that the basic aspects of intentional understanding can be fully appreciated only on the basis of a motor approach to intentionality. This paper has a dual objective: to develop this approach in order to account for the crucial role of motor intentionality in action and intention understanding below and before any meta-representational ability, and to shed new light on the ontogeny of mindreading, by explaining how the first forms of understanding in infants may be intentional in nature, even without presupposing any explicit and deliberate mentalizing.
Research on social cognition needs to overcome a disciplinary disintegration. On the one hand, in cognitive science and philosophy of mind – even in recent embodied approaches – the explanatory weight is still overly on individual capacities. In social science on the other hand, the investigation of the interaction process and interactional behaviour is not often brought to bear on individual aspects of social cognition. Not bringing these approaches together has unfairly limited the range of possible explanations of social understanding to the postulation of complicated internal mechanisms (contingency detection modules for instance). Starting from the question What is a social interaction? we propose a fresh look at the problem aimed at integrating individual cognition and the interaction process in order to arrive at more parsimonious explanations of social understanding. We show how an enactive framework can provide a way to do this, starting from the notions of autonomy, sense-making and coordination. We propose that not only each individual in a social encounter but also the interaction process itself has autonomy. Examples illustrate that these autonomies evolve throughout an encounter, and that collective as well as individual mechanisms are at play in all social interactions. We also introduce the notion of participatory sense-making in order to connect meaning-generation with coordination. This notion describes a spectrum of degrees of participation from the modulation of individual sense-making by coordination patterns, over orientation, to joint sense-making. Finally, we discuss implications for empirical research on social interaction, especially for studies of social contingency.
This chapter contrasts traditional, disembodied information-processing approaches to intersubjectivity in socio-cognitive research with more recent, embodied approaches. Based on an analysis of the shortcomings of the former, it focuses on the latter, but also clarifies different notions of embodiment and its role in cognition and social interaction. Integrating a broad range of theoretical perspectives and empirical evidence from mainly social psychology, social neuroscience, embodied linguistics and gesture studies, four fundamental functions of the body in social interaction are identified: (1) the body as a social resonance mechanism, (2) the body as a means and end in communication and social interaction, (3) embodied action and gesture as a 'helping hand' in shaping, expressing and sharing thoughts, and (4) the body as a representational device. The theoretical discussions are illustrated with an example from a case study of in-situ embodied social interaction, with a focus on the importance of crossmodal interaction in the process of scaffolding. It is concluded that the body is of crucial importance in understanding social interaction and cognition in general, and in particular the relational nature of mind and intersubjectivity.
Historically, the ability to point and conversely the absence of pointing in other great ape species has been interpreted as evidence of great discontinuity across the primate lines in the ability to share meaning with an interlocutor. However, this conclusion ignored a variety of observations of nonhuman primates pointing in captivity over the past century and was put to rest by careful experimental work conducted in especially the past decade. Now the debate concerns the human ability to declaratively point and the absence of declarative pointing in other great apes and the same discontinuous conclusions are being drawn. In this chapter, we argue that this is a continuation of the same debate that presupposes certain problematic ideas about the nature of meaning and mind. We attempt to show that the mental state of, for example, a pointer is not what makes an act declarative (or imperative) and we examine this mentalistic picture of the mind that guides the work of theorists who claim to be advancing very different explanations of early social cognition. We then turn to a more general methodological critique of existing research in order to show that the lack of valid empirical evidence can speak to these issues.
We outline a theory of human agency and communication and discuss the role that the capability to share (that is, intersubjectivity) plays in it. All the notions discussed are cast in a mentalistic and radically constructivist framework. We also introduce and discuss the relevant literature.
The chapter presents a conceptual framework that links the enaction of our intentions to the understanding of other people's intentions through the concept of “Presence”, the feeling of being and acting in a world outside us. Specifically the chapter suggests that humans develop intentionality and Self by prereflexively evaluating agency in relation to the constraints imposed by the environment (Presence): they are “present” if they are able to enact in an external world their intentions. This capacity also enables them to go beyond the surface appearance of behavior to draw inferences about other individuals' intentions (Social Presence): others are “present” to us if we are able to recognize them as enacting beings. Both Presence and Social Presence evolve in time, and their evolution is strictly related to the three-stage model of the ontogenesis of Self introduced by Damasio (Proto-Self, Core Self, Autobiographical Self). More, we can identify higher levels of Presence and Social Presence associated to higher levels of intentional granularity: the more is the complexity of the expressed and recognized intentions, the more is the level of Presence and Social Presence experienced by the Self. In this framework, motor intentions and mirror neurons are at the basis of the intentional chain, but full intentional granularity requires the activity of higher cortical levels.
We offer a model of perceptual intersubjectivity (PI), the phenomenon of two or more subjects focusing their attention on the same external target. The model involves two types: symmetric and asymmetric PI, and three levels: synchronous (SPI), coordinated (CPI) and reciprocal (RPI), defined on the basis of the observable behavior of the participants of (non-verbal) social interactions. We hypothesize that the three levels correspond to stages in the development and possibly evolution of human perceptual intersubjectivity, and provide support for this through an empirical study of adult-infant interactions in two species of great apes (chimpanzees and bonobos) and human beings. The results showed conspicuous and apparently qualitative differences between the human and non-human subjects, and clear developmental patterns in the human data. Thus our analysis may contribute to the ultimate goal of understanding the nature and development of human cognitive specificity, in line with goals with the collaborative project Stages in the Evolution and Development of Sign Use (SEDSU)  .
Human newborns demonstrate a readiness to mirror facial expressions and gestures, and both infants and adults frequently manifest their participant mirroring of what their companions are doing – to be illustrated and explained in this chapter. Sometimes they imitate or re-enact what they have seen being done. Sometimes they concurrently co-enact what the companion is doing as if they were virtual co-authors of the companion's doing, and sometimes they pre-enact slightly in advance what the companion is about to do or say as if coming to the companion's virtual aid, for example when spectators at a sports arena lift their legs as the high-jumper is about to jump, or when the spoon-feeder opens own mouth as the spoon is pushed into the opening mouth of the patient. Illustrations will be offered of infants who reciprocate feeding or even spoon-feeding before their first year's birthday, thus demonstrating their learning by imitative re-enactment by virtue of participant perception of their feeders' acts of feeding. The above and other illustrations of participant perception are specified in terms of the inborn capacity for other-centred participation, and indicated to be supported by a mirror neurons system adapted in hominin phylogeny to subserve learning to cope and take care by (m)other-centred participation. This facilitates the ontogenetic path to speech in the culture into which the infant is born and will be shown to open a window to altruism in young children, exemplified by some three-year old orphans. The ontogenetic path from primary to tertiary intersubjective enactment is specified to go by way of embodied simulation to verbal conversation with its reciprocal and participant characteristics by virtue of simulation of mind.
Recent neuroscientific studies of self-awareness have focused on how the self compares to representations of other people, on the ability to represent and attribute mental states, and on the ability to represent how the external world would appear from other viewpoints. Social cognitive neuroscience tends to emphasize the shared properties of self and others across several dimensions, such as the shared properties of actions, bodies and sensations, rather than the asymmetries between self and other. In the present chapter, we put forward the hypothesis that the experience and representation of one's own body may underpin the distinction between the self and other agents. In every inter-action, there are both private and public states and signals represented in the brain of the agent and the observer. Private signals refer to centrally generated action representations such as intentions, efferent signals (e.g. efference copy, motor commands), and re-afferent signals such as proprioception. Public signals originate from observable sensory events, both re-afferent and ex-afferent, such as visual and auditory signals that may refer to bodies, objects or complex patterns of motor behaviour. How are these signals used to disambiguate the identity of bodies and the origin of actions? By focusing on recent experiments on self-recognition, we propose that the experience of one's actions, which depends largely on the processing of efferent information, may function as a unifying element that structures a coherent representation of the bodily self, as distinct from the other agents.
It is sometimes claimed that individuals come to shape their own minds through looking into the mirror of others (Social Mirroring). Social mirroring has two sides to it: mirroring (individual 1 mirrors individual 2) and understanding being mirrored (individual 2 understands that s/he is being mirrored by individual 1). Social mirroring comes in various guises, arising from different modes of mirroring and different modes of communication. In this chapter I argue that two basic requirements must be fulfilled for social mirroring to work, a functional and a social one. The functional requirement refers to the operation of representational devices with mirror-like properties (mirrors inside). The social requirement refers to discourses and practices for using and exploiting mirrors inside in social interaction (“mirror games” and “mirror policies”)
Perception and interpretation of goal-directed behaviour is one of the crucial social-cognitive skills in the field of human cognition. At a very early age, infants start to be able to perceive and interpret a human action as goal-directed. This early ability is often viewed as an important precursor for intentional understanding and, even more importantly, for later Theory of Mind development. A question which is discussed controversially is how infants' abilities to perceive and understand goal-directed human actions are interrelated with their competence to perform the same behaviour. There is ample evidence that in adults, perception and production of an action share a common representational ground where planned actions are represented in the same format as perceived events [e.g. Common Coding Principle, 1, 2]. However, studies on the development of this interrelation have yielded contradictory results. The present chapter integrates various findings from different studies investigating perception, production, and imitation of goal-directed actions and discusses them in the light of existing hypotheses and theories on the development of action perception and production.
Since the beginning of the Nineteen-eighties, cognitive scientists have shown increasing interest in a range of phenomena, processes and capacities underlying human interaction, collectively referred to as intersubjectivity. The goal of this line of research is to give an account of the various forms of human interaction, and in particular of the affective, attentional and intentional determinants of joint activity. The main thesis we develop in the paper is that so far the authors interested in intersubjectivity have neglected, or at least undervalued, an important aspect of joint activity, that is, the essentially normative character of collective intentionality. Our approach to joint activity is mainly based on Margaret Gilbert's theory of plural subjects. Gilbert's general idea is that joint activities should be regarded as activities carried out by individuals who stand to one another in a special relation, called joint commitment, which has an intrinsically normative nature. As we shall try to show, the concept of a joint commitment is a powerful tool to explain certain specific features of joint activities. In the paper we first point out certain explanatory inadequacies of the current models of intersubjectivity, and contend that such inadequacies depend on failing to appreciate the fundamental role of normativity in collective intentionality. We briefly sketch Gilbert's theory of plural subjects, and introduce the concept of a joint commitment, and then discuss some lines along which a psychology of plural subjects may be developed.
Ensemble musicians coordinate their actions with remarkable precision. The ensemble cohesion that results is predicated upon group members sharing a common goal; a unified concept of the ideal sound. The current chapter reviews research addressing three cognitive processes that enable individuals to realize such shared goals while engaged in musical joint action. The first process is auditory imagery; specifically, anticipating one's own sounds and the sounds produced by other performers. The second process, prioritized integrative attention, involves dividing attention between one's own actions (high priority) and those of others (lower priority) while monitoring the overall, integrated ensemble sound. The third process relates to adaptive timing, i.e., adjusting the timing of one's movements in order to maintain synchrony in the face of tempo changes and other, often unpredictable, events. The way in which these processes interact to determine ensemble coordination is discussed.
In this chapter we examine the time course of dynamic-action representations using an experimental paradigm for studying partially occluded action. To address this issue we focus on transitions between perceptual mechanisms (taking care of representing action before and after occlusion), and substitute mechanisms for simulation (taking care of representing the action during occlusion). Does simulation just carry on old processes – or initiate new ones? We discuss first results concerning the impact that features of unoccluded action segments make on the representation of occluded segments. These results suggest that action simulation is a creative process, creating novel invisible actions rather than extrapolating visible actions. Observers thus fill the gap by creating something new, not by carrying on something old.
The importance of the face and facial expression in enactive intersubjectivity is explored by reference to the experience of those with Moebius Syndrome. This rare, congenital condition affects the brain stem, leading to a variety of impairments of which the cardinal ones are an absence of movement of the muscles of facial expression and an absence of movement of the eyes laterally. Those with Moebius have no facial expression and have difficulty with changing the direction of eye gaze. Narratives from several people with Moebius are given. For some their impairments in facial expression lead to problems in interpersonal relatedness and in both emotional communication and in emotional experience itself. Embodied, facial expressions seem to have a large role in interpersonal communication of emotion; without such exchanges the development of emotional experience itself may be difficult.
The goal of this chapter is to theoretically explore intersubjectivity when social development goes awry. More specifically, it will explore intersubjectivity and autism by combining work with infant intersubjectivity, anthropological dimensions of socialness, and sociocultural positions on mediated action and sense of self in order to conceptualize how social changes during adolescence might transfigure mutual engagement. A sociocultural framework that focuses on mediated action is outlined as one way that individual mental functioning and social phenomena come together. The idea that routines become cultural, symbolic tools and social others often function as animate tools that support late emerging intersubjectivity is developed within the paper. Case study material of one child with autism, as reported by the mother, is used to illustrate how intersubjectivity can be constructed by means of these tools after years of disruptive communication and social engagement.