Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Non-Local Mind from the Perspective of Social Cognition

Some of the newest theories in social cognition have moved beyond the isolated brain as a foundation for cognition - almost all of which is social. Some believe, and I count myself in this group, that "cognition is shaped—or even constituted—by mutual interplay and co-regulated coupling between interacting agents embedded in their environment."

This is an interesting paper that serves primarily as a review of the new directions emerging, but it seems to be an important perspective for those of us who seek a better understanding of how minds emerge from brains.

Non-local mind from the perspective of social cognition

Jonas Chatel-Goldman, Jean-Luc Schwartz, Christian Jutten and Marco Congedo

Two main conceptual approaches have been employed to study the mechanisms of social cognition, whether one considers isolated or interacting minds. Using neuro-imaging of subjects in isolation, the former approach has provided knowledge on the neural underpinning of a variety of social processes. However, it has been argued that considering one brain alone cannot account for all mechanisms subtending online social interaction. This challenge has been tackled recently by using neuro-imaging of multiple interacting subjects in more ecological settings. The present short review aims at offering a comprehensive view on various advances done in the last decade. We provide a taxonomy of existing research in neuroscience of social interaction, situating them in the frame of general organization principles of social cognition. Finally, we discuss the putative enabling role of emerging non-local social mechanisms—such as interpersonal brain and body coupling—in processes underlying our ability to create a shared world.

Full Citation: Chatel-Goldman J, Schwartz J-L, Jutten C and Congedo M (2013) Non-local mind from the perspective of social cognition. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7:107. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00107

Here is the introduction to the paper.


Recent years have seen a flourishing interest in exploring underlying mechanisms of social interaction, as illustrated by a recent special topic in this journal. Motivated by the study of multiple interacting individuals in ecological social contexts (Hari and Kujala, 2009; Schilbach, 2010; Dumas, 2011) this research trend departs from traditional focus on sole investigation of brains in isolation (see Table 1). A central question here is to what extent cognition is shaped—or even constituted (De Jaegher et al., 2010)—by mutual interplay and co-regulated coupling between interacting agents embedded in their environment (Coey et al., 2012; Hasson et al., 2012; Krueger and Michael, 2012). First results in this direction come from sparse and heterogeneous studies, with experimental paradigms ranging, e.g., from use of economic games (De Vico Fallani et al., 2010), music playing or singing (Müller and Lindenberger, 2011), hand movement imitation (Dumas et al., 2010), speech production, and perception (Stephens et al., 2010), to facial communication of affect (Anders et al., 2011).

TABLE 1 (opens a larger image)

Table 1. Comparison between paradigms of isolation and interaction in studies on social cognition.

Since a large conceptual gap remains between the “isolated” and “interactive” approaches (Di Paolo and De Jaegher, 2012; Konvalinka and Roepstorff, 2012), much effort is needed today to situate new contribution in the complex picture of social cognition. It was claimed recently that social cognition itself may be fundamentally different from an interactor's vs. from an observer's point of view (Schilbach et al., in press). In consequence, when entering the multiple- brain and body methodological framework we need to disentangle the social mechanisms revealed in isolation paradigms (offline) from those that are presumed proper to genuine interaction (online).

In this paper, we aim at facilitating the conceptualization when investigating cognitive processes (Box 1) during social interaction. Using a reductionist approach, we propose a classification of explored functions into distinct domains and stages of information processing (Figure 1).


Box 1. Operational definitions.


Figure 1. Taxonomy of current studies on interacting brain and bodies presented from the perspective of investigated social processes. Each cylinder represents a distinct research cluster adopted by the community. The schematic view describes how social neuroscience research aggregated on three main categories depending on investigated social cognitive processes. Vertical dimension of the diagram situates these studies in the context of general organization principles of social cognition (see main text). This diagram should not be seen as architecture of neural mechanisms per se, but as a general map of social processes as they were inquired in actual studies.

This comprehensive frame:
  • Enables to fit the recent and heterogeneous advances made in research on interacting individuals into the bigger picture of social cognition.
  • Highlights a categorization of current works into three distinct groups, each corresponding to the use of specific experimental methodologies, types of interaction and theoretical approaches.
  • Uncovers the domains and processes of social cognition for which we still lack a fine understanding of interactive mechanisms, i.e., mechanisms that have not been explored yet, or for which new methodologies may be applied.
In the following, we give clarifications on the different dimensions of the drawing and their implications in terms of methodological as well as conceptual approaches. Then we consider a few examples of studies on human interaction as an illustration for the provided taxonomy. We conclude discussing the potential enabling role of emergent non-local mechanisms on social processes.
Here are two additional sections, which follow immediately on the introduction, that offer a vertical and horizontal dimension to this model of cognition.

Horizontal Dimension: Domains of Investigated Social Processes

Each cylinder in Figure 1 represents a research focus adopted by the community. Up to now three main clusters gather most of the neuro-imaging studies in neuroscience of social interaction, whether focusing on the general themes of theory of mind (ToM), emotions in a social context, or joint action. Few outer studies also begin to link up these different categories of explored social processes. Interestingly, this domain-based distinction corresponds at least in part to specific brain mechanisms. It is admitted, for instance that empathy and mind reading rely on different neuronal circuitry and display different ontogenetic and phylogenetic trajectories (Singer, 2006). Meanwhile, some brain structures are known to play a critical role in multiple aspects of social cognition. Finally, several investigations demonstrate an interaction across processes depicted in Figure 1. For example, mimicry can contribute to an empathic response (Singer and Lamm, 2009), and motor contagion arises from the observation of biological movements and could in turn be a first step for automatic inference of goal-directed actions (Blakemore and Frith, 2005).

Vertical Dimension: Stages of Social Information Processing

Besides the aforementioned partitioning, we propose to situate neuroimaging studies of social interaction within commonly recognized organization levels of social cognition. To do so, we situate the social processes along bipolar continua together with their key attributes often considered in the literature. Extensive source material in line with this architecture can be found e.g., in Adolphs (2010), highlighting multiple stages of social information processing and in Frith and Frith (2008), showing the importance of implicit vs. explicit processes of social cognition. Progressing from lower to higher stages of social information processing, from perception through cognition to regulation, in Figure 1 we highlight the changes in attributes, such as automaticity and control, process speed, sensitivity to context, age of development in normal infant, and probably phylogenetic trajectory.

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