Monday, March 02, 2015

Toward an Embodied Science of Intersubjectivity: Widening the Scope of Social Understanding Research

The following article is an introduction to the Research Topic on Frontiers in Psychology: Cognitive Science: Towards an embodied science of intersubjectivity: Widening the scope of social understanding research.

This is an interesting article and a very cool research area.

Full Citation: 
Di Paolo, EA, and De Jaegher, H. (2015, Mar 2). Toward an embodied science of intersubjectivity: Widening the scope of social understanding research. Frontiers in Psychology: Cognitive Science. 6:234. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00234

Toward an embodied science of intersubjectivity: Widening the scope of social understanding research

  • Logic and Philosophy of Science, IAS-Research Centre, University of the Basque Country, Donostia/San Sebastián, Spain
The study of human social phenomena in their proper scope demands the integrated effort of many disciplinary traditions. This fact is widely acknowledged but rarely acted upon. It is in practice often difficult to cross disciplinary boundaries, to communicate across different vocabularies, research goals, theories and methods. The aim of this Research Topic has been to make some progress in stepping across these borders.

Not attempting this crossing in a subject as multi-faceted as intersubjectivity inevitably binds us to remain within self-enclosed conceptions. By this we mean a bundle of self-reinforcing perspectives, hypotheses, experimental methods, debates, communities and institutions. Traditional ways of thinking about social cognition frame the questions that are deemed worth researching. These all revolve around the issue of how we figure out other minds, assuming that other people's intentional states are hidden, private and internal. The proposed answers rely only on how the perceived indirect manifestations of other people's mental states are processed by individual cognitive mechanisms (Van Overwalle, 2009).

We would like to raise, instead, the question of what an embodied science of intersubjectivity would look like if we were to start from different premises than those that delimit classical approaches to social cognition. For doing this, we thought the time was ripe for bringing together work that crosses disciplinary boundaries and informs us about different conceptions of how people understand each other and act and make meaning together.

The move is timely. The internalist assumptions in social cognition research are beginning to shift. We have more and better tools to explore the role of interactive phenomena and interpersonal histories in conjunction with individual processes (Dumas et al., 2010; Di Paolo and De Jaegher, 2012; Konvalinka and Roepstorff, 2012; Schilbach et al., 2013). This interactive expansion of the conceptual and methodological toolkit for investigating social cognition, we now propose, can be followed by an expansion into wider and deeply-related research questions, beyond (but including) that of social cognition narrowly construed.

Our social lives are populated by different kinds of cognitive and affective phenomena apart from figuring out other minds. They include acting and perceiving together, verbal and non-verbal engagement, experiences of (dis-)connection, relations in a group, joint meaning-making, intimacy, trust, secrecy, conflict, negotiation, asymmetric relations, material mediation of social interaction, collective action, contextual engagement with socio-cultural norms, etc. These phenomena are often characterized by a strong participation by the cognitive agent, in contrast with the spectatorial stance of social cognition (Reddy and Morris, 2004; De Jaegher and Di Paolo, 2007). We use the broader notion of embodied intersubjectivity to refer to this wider set of questions.

Forty-two contributions to this Research Topic explore several of these themes. They combine ideas and methods from psychology, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, psychiatry and psychotherapy, social science, and language studies. The number of contributions confirms our suspicions that there is a genuine interest in embodied intersubjectivity.

All of the contributions in some way or other move beyond traditional cognitivist perspectives. Here we can simply highlight some of the most interesting ways in which this happens. As already mentioned, there is a recent trend to investigate the dynamics of actual interactive encounters between people. Several empirical studies in this Research Topic continue further along this line. They look at interactive encounters using methods such as thermal imaging, interactive virtual environments, or 1/f noise analysis, or combine existing methods with novel theoretical starting points.

Other work looks at aspects of embodied social understanding which are pertinent even in the absence of ongoing interaction. These include the richness of body kinematics, affect regulation, and life-story analysis. A few contributions focus on how embodied and interactive perspectives impact on developmental research. They study real-life interactions between infants and their care-givers in various contexts (infant pick-up, book sharing, pointing, cooperation, and expressiveness during play in chimpanzees). Aspects of psychopathology are explored also from an embodied intersubjective angle, inspiring research on intra- and inter-personal emotion regulation, social affordances, personal biography, and therapeutic play, and their effects on somatic symptom disorders, autism, and schizophrenia.

Broadening the scope of relevant questions for embodied intersubjectivity inevitably means including research on language. Many of the contributions make headway on this matter, questioning the notion of the common ground, the role of conformity in social understanding, the processes involved in the activity of reading texts, and the links between conversational coordination and meaning-making. Others investigate the participatory nature of understanding narratives, and the role of organizational, temporal, and inter-affective aspects in language. Similar advances can be made in the area of connecting the cognitive and the social sciences. This is a very fruitful but still largely unexplored territory. A discussion is offered along Marxist lines concerning the interaction between categories of understanding and modes of social exchange and production. And the lessons of embodied/enactive approaches to intersubjectivity are summoned to contribute to understanding the phenomenological and social effects of solitary confinement.

Finally, some contributions elaborate theoretical and methodological implications and concepts, and in this way contribute to shaping the core of an embodied science of intersubjectivity. Methodological issues include whether dynamical systems concepts can bridge the multiple scales involved in social understanding, from the biological and neural to the personal, interactive and societal, how second person perspectives in cognitive science can help psychopathology research, and whether techniques used in theater can refine intuitions and theoretical concepts about interactive experience. Theoretical advances include radically embodied accounts of intersubjectivity that bring together conceptions from enactivism and ecological psychology, the notion of intersubjective time, and a socially embodied notion of the human self. Other discussions offer links between interpersonal interaction and phenomenal experience, between social normativity and conceptual abilities, or unearth the importance of opacity, i.e., the secret, silent or hidden aspects of personal experience, for understanding each other.

It is noteworthy, and especially satisfying, that many novel themes and questions emerged, several of them in some way related to personal meaning. To name a few: joy, secrecy, solitude, influence of capitalist mode of production on cognition, book sharing in infancy, the search for comprehensiveness and integrity in interacting, literature, and enactivism, ethics of care, shame in relation to interaction, and the interactive building blocks of culture and institutions.

Once again, we notice that the contributions to this Research Topic demonstrate the richness of enquiry and research work that is opened by the combination of novel methods and the bringing together of fields that traditionally work in isolation from each other. It also shows that criticisms of classical approaches as being sometimes too narrow are not just idle but point to genuinely new perspectives on concrete and everyday intersubjectivity that are opened to investigation.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

This work is supported by the Marie-Curie Initial Training Network, “TESIS: Towards an Embodied Science of InterSubjectivity” (FP7-PEOPLE-2010-ITN, 264828).

De Jaegher, H., and Di Paolo, E. (2007). Participatory sense-making: an enactive approach to social cognition. Phenomenol. Cogn. Sci. 6, 485–507. doi: 10.1007/s11097-007-9076-9
Di Paolo, E. A., and De Jaegher, H. (2012). The interactive brain hypothesis. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:163. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00163
Dumas, G., Nadel, J., Soussignan, R., Martinerie, J., and Garnero, L. (2010). Inter-brain synchronization during social interaction. PLoS ONE 5:e12166. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012166
Konvalinka, I., and Roepstorff, A. (2012). The two-brain approach: how can mutually interacting brains teach us something about social interaction? Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:215. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00215
Reddy, V., and Morris, P. (2004). Participants don't need theories: knowing minds in engagement. Theory Psychol. 14, 647–665. doi: 10.1177/0959354304046177
Schilbach, L., Timmermans, B., Reddy, V., Costall, A., Bente, G., Schlicht, T., et al. (2013). Towards a second-person neuroscience. Behav. Brain Sci. 36, 393–462. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X12000660
Van Overwalle, F. (2009). Social cognition and the brain: a meta-analysis. Hum. Brain Mapp. 30, 829–858. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20547
Here are some of the articles posted in this Research Topic so far. If you follow the link, you'll be on page one of four (43 articles going back to the beginning of 2014).

Enactive account of pretend play and its application to therapy

Zuzanna Rucinska and Ellen Reijmers

Perspective: This paper informs therapeutic practices that use play, by providing a non-standard philosophical account of pretence: the Enactive Account of Pretend Play. The EAPP holds that pretend play activity need not invoke mental representational mechanisms; ...

Published on 02 March 2015
Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00175

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Embodied intersubjective engagement in mother–infant tactile communication: a cross-cultural study of Japanese and Scottish mother–infant behaviors during infant pick-up

Koichi Negayama, Jonathan T. Delafield-Butt, Keiko Momose, Konomi Ishijima, Noriko Kawahara, Erin J. Lux, Andrew Murphy and Konstantinos Kaliarntas

Original Research: This study examines the early development of cultural differences in a simple, embodied and intersubjective engagement between mothers putting down, picking up, and carrying their infants between Japan and Scotland. Eleven Japanese and 10 Scottish ...

Published on 27 February 2015
Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00066 

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Assessing embodied interpersonal emotion regulation in somatic symptom disorders: a case study

Zeynep Okur Güney, Heribert Sattel, Daniela Cardone and Arcangelo Merla

Original Research: The aim of the present study was to examine the intra- and interpersonal emotion regulation of patients with somatic symptom disorders (SSD) during interactions with significant others (i.e. romantic partners). We presented two case couples for ... 

Published on 10 February 2015
Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00068

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Navigating beyond “here & now” affordances—on sensorimotor maturation and “false belief” performance

Maria Brincker

Perspective: How and when do we learn to understand other people’s perspectives and possibly divergent beliefs? This question has elicited much theoretical and empirical research. A puzzling finding has been that toddlers perform well on so-called implicit false ... 

Published on 15 December 2014
Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01433

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Jointly structuring triadic spaces of meaning and action: book sharing from 3 months on

Nicole Rossmanith, Alan Costall, Andreas F. Reichelt, Beatriz López and Vasudevi Reddy

Original Research: This study explores the emergence of triadic interactions through the example of book sharing. As part of a naturalistic study, 10 infants were visited in their homes from 3-12 months. We report that (1) book sharing as a form of ... 

Published on 10 December 2014
Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01390

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Keep meaning in conversational coordination

Elena C. Cuffari

Perspective: Coordination is a widely employed term across recent quantitative and qualitative approaches to intersubjectivity, particularly approaches that give embodiment and enaction central explanatory roles. With a focus on linguistic and bodily coordination ... 

Published on 03 December 2014
Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01397

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Toward an expansion of an enactive ethics with the help of care ethics

Petr Urban

Published on 27 November 2014
Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01354

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Enacting a social ecology: radically embodied intersubjectivity

Marek McGann

Hypothesis & Theory: Embodied approaches to cognitive science frequently describe the mind as “world-involving”, indicating complementary and interdependent relationships between an agent and its environment. The precise nature of the environment is frequently left ... 

Published on 18 November 2014
Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01321

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Quantifying long-range correlations and 1/f patterns in a minimal experiment of social interaction

Manuel G. Bedia, Miguel Aguilera, Tomás Gómez, David G. Larrode and Francisco Seron

Original ResearchIn recent years, researchers in social cognition have found the `perceptual crossing paradigm' to be both a theoretical and practical advance towards meeting particular challenges. This paradigm has been used to analyze the type of interactive ... 

Published on 12 November 2014
Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01281

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Why call bodily sense making “languaging”?

Giovanna Colombetti

General Commentary
Published on 07 November 2014
Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01286

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Pooling the ground: understanding and coordination in collective sense making

Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi, Agnieszka Dębska and Adam Sochanowicz

Hypothesis & Theory: Common ground is most often understood as the sum of mutually known beliefs, knowledge and suppositions among the participants in a conversation. It explains why participants do not mention things that should be obvious to both. In some accounts of ...

Published on 07 November 2014
Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01233

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