Prospects for direct social perception: a multi-theoretical integration to further the science of social cognition


In this paper we suggest that differing approaches to the science of social cognition mirror the arguments between radical embodied and traditional approaches to cognition. We contrast the use in social cognition of theoretical inference and mental simulation mechanisms with approaches emphasizing a direct perception of others’ mental states. We build from a recent integrative framework unifying these divergent perspectives through the use of dual-process theory and supporting social neuroscience research. Our elaboration considers two complementary notions of direct perception: one primarily stemming from ecological psychology and the other from enactive cognition theory. We use this as the foundation from which to offer an account of the informational basis for social information and assert a set of research propositions to further the science of social cognition. In doing so, we point out how perception of the minds of others can be supported in some cases by lawful information, supporting direct perception of social affordances and perhaps, mental states, and in other cases by cues that support indirect perceptual inference. Our goal is to extend accounts of social cognition by integrating advances across disciplines to provide a multi-level and multi-theoretic description that can advance this field and offer a means through which to reconcile radical embodied and traditional approaches to cognitive neuroscience.

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience