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Beyond the Brain Conference

Beyond the Brain Conference

Academic Conference at the University of Edinburgh on Reconceptualizing Mental Disorders

Abstracts: Anna Marta Sveisberga

We Are Mind Feeling Each Other: Embodied Attunement As the Basis for Affective Social Cognition


Jakob Howhy argues that social cognition is based on two basic features: mimicking the actions of others and adopting the same type of emotions towards an object in the environment. According to Howhy the emotional evaluation of an object is comprised of sophisticated evaluation over where the other person is attending and visually assessing their physical features, which signify a particular emotional attitude towards the given object. Such evaluation allows one to adopt the same type of an emotion towards that same object.

However, we see that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often fail to take on the same emotional attitudes towards the objects in their environment, even though they are successful in mimicking the actions of other agents. This suggests that acquiring specific emotional attitudes towards different objects is not achieved through the evaluation of visual information.

Lisa Feldman Barrett speaks of an embodied perspective of emotion. She suggests that infants achieve emotional attunement with their caregivers by mimicking their physical states. Thus, emotions are seen as primarily embodied. This fine grained embodied mimicking happens automatically and the physical changes in one`s own body further serve as interoceptive information about the surrounding environment. It is this automatic mimicking of other people`s embodiment that is impaired in children with ASD. This is why they succeed in mimicking tasks but do not experience the same affect towards the task that they are mimicking.

From the case study of ASD we can conclude that the affective part of social cognition is attained through interoception over one`s own embodiment via the changes that take place as one automatically seeks attunement with the embodiment of others. If this automatic attunement is impaired, then one has to resort to intentionally learning representational ways of inferring other people`s emotional attitudes towards their surroundings.


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