Uri Hasson and Chris D. Frith. Mirroring and beyond: coupled dynamics as a generalized framework for modelling social interactions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Vol. 317, Issue 1793, May 2016.
Abstract: When people observe one another, behavioural alignment can be detected at many levels, from the physical to the mental. Likewise, when people process the same highly complex stimulus sequences, such as films and stories, alignment is detected in the elicited brain activity. In early sensory areas, shared neural patterns are coupled to the low-level properties of the stimulus (shape, motion, volume, etc.), while in high-order brain areas, shared neural patterns are coupled to high-levels aspects of the stimulus, such as meaning. Successful social interactions require such alignments (both behavioural and neural), as communication cannot occur without shared understanding. However, we need to go beyond simple, symmetric (mirror) alignment once we start interacting. Interactions are dynamic processes, which involve continuous mutual adaptation, development of complementary behaviour and division of labour such as leader–follower roles. Here, we argue that interacting individuals are dynamically coupled rather than simply aligned. This broader framework for understanding interactions can encompass both processes by which behaviour and brain activity mirror each other (neural alignment), and situations in which behaviour and brain activity in one participant are coupled (but not mirrored) to the dynamics in the other participant. To apply these more sophisticated accounts of social interactions to the study of the underlying neural processes we need to develop new experimental paradigms and novel methods of data analysis.
This is from a theme issue, ‘Attending to and neglecting people’ compiled and edited by Riitta Hari, Lauri Nummenmaa and Mikko Sams. Another article: Hanne De Jaegher, Ezequiel Di Paolo, Ralph Adolphs. What does the interactive brain hypothesis mean for social neuroscience? A dialogue (May 2016).
Abstract: A recent framework inspired by phenomenological philosophy, dynamical systems theory, embodied cognition and robotics has proposed the interactive brain hypothesis (IBH). Whereas mainstream social neuroscience views social cognition as arising solely from events in the brain, the IBH argues that social cognition requires, in addition, causal relations between the brain and the social environment. We discuss, in turn, the foundational claims for the IBH in its strongest form; classical views of cognition that can be raised against the IBH; a defence of the IBH in the light of these arguments; and a response to this. Our goal is to initiate a dialogue between cognitive neuroscience and enactive views of social cognition. We conclude by suggesting some new directions and emphases that social neuroscience might take.
From the article itself:
In order to understand cognition, we need to partition cognitive systems. In particular, we need to partition them into those parts that should be analysed as inputs to the system, those that are the outputs from the system, and those that are actually implementing the cognition. We do the same thing with computers running programs: there is a causal interaction with the world that can be treated as input, there is processing internal to the computer, and there is causal interaction with the world that can be treated as output.
The IBH follows the more dynamical systems view that much of situated cognition has adopted [5,6], and claims that this partitioning does not reflect how cognition actually takes place in the world. Unlike the classical computer metaphor, there is a more or less continuous stream of causal interaction between brain and the world, and, in the case of the social world, ‘outputs' from a brain influence ‘inputs' (i.e. one person influences another) in such a tightly coupled way that it becomes impossible to distinguish input from output. Instead, say advocates of the IBH, one should treat the whole system (two or more people interacting) as a single, dynamically coupled system. Cognition is constituted by the events in my brain, the events in the other person's brain, and the causal relations between them: the whole system matters.