Understanding others: embodied social cognition
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The standard and dominant approaches to social cognition rarely emphasize intersubjective interaction, and even when they do mention interaction they frame the problem in terms of two minds that have to communicate across the seemingly thin air of an unbridgeable gap. From this viewpoint, interaction is not a solution but simply an another way to state the problem of other minds. On standard accounts of theory of mind (ToM) this gap between minds is bridged by some kind of cognitive processes in one mind providing the means to infer what is going on in the mind of the other, since the mind of the other is imperceptible. What one needs to bridge this gap is either theory (folk psychology), or simulation, or a combination of theory and simulation that will permit an inferential form of mind-reading or "mentalizing." This chapter, after reviewing some of the traditional ToM models of social cognition, outlines an alternative model on the basis of evidence from developmental psychology and phenomenology. In this alternative model, embodied, second-person interaction plays a central (although not an exclusive) role in our ability to understand other people. Finally, the chapter discusses a recent development of simulation theory (ST) that champions an embodied simulationist approach. Traditional ToM accounts make little mention of how the body might fit into the process of understanding others.
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