Theories typically emphasize affordances or intentions as the primary determinant of an object's perceived function. The HIPE theory assumes that people integrate both into causal models that produce functional attributions. In these models, an object's physical structure and an agent's action specify an affordance jointly, constituting the immediate causes of a perceived function. The object's design history and an agent's goal in using it constitute distant causes. When specified fully, the immediate causes are sufficient for determining the perceived function--distant causes have no effect (the causal proximity principle). When the immediate causes are ambiguous or unknown, distant causes produce inferences about the immediate causes, thereby affecting functional attributions indirectly (the causal updating principle). Seven experiments supported HIPE's predictions.
Professor George has ventured into a comparatively unchartered area seeking, as he does, to explore the art and concept of performance in Buddhism -- more specially in the context of Buddhist meditation and theatre. Spelling out the epistemology of performance in all its different connotations and definitional nuances, his study opens out an astonishingly vast panorama of the Buddhist theatrical practices in Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Nepal, Tibet . . . and goes on to demonstrate how, within this panorama, three kinds of theatrical practice can be identified, each corresponding to one of the three paths open to a Buddhist: the karma path, the Bodhisattva option, and enlightenment, and each representative of one of the three main cultures of Buddhism -- the Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana. Supported by extensive endnotes and bibliographic references, Dr. George's book also carries a range of case studies of the art of performance in Buddhism, with definitive examples, among others, of the Sri Lankan Kandy dance and Karma drama, Tibetan Chams and Chod, and Japanese Noh.
The ability to accurately infer others’ mental states from facial expressions is important for optimal social functioning and is fundamentally impaired in social cognitive disorders such as autism. While pharmacologic interventions have shown promise for enhancing empathic accuracy, little is known about the effects of behavioral interventions on empathic accuracy and related brain activity. This study employed a randomized, controlled and longitudinal design to investigate the effect of a secularized analytical compassion meditation program, cognitive-based compassion training (CBCT), on empathic accuracy. Twenty-one healthy participants received functional MRI scans while completing an empathic accuracy task, the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), both prior to and after completion of either CBCT or a health discussion control group. Upon completion of the study interventions, participants randomized to CBCT and were significantly more likely than control subjects to have increased scores on the RMET and increased neural activity in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC). Moreover, changes in dmPFC and IFG activity from baseline to the post-intervention assessment were associated with changes in empathic accuracy. These findings suggest that CBCT may hold promise as a behavioral intervention for enhancing empathic accuracy and the neurobiology supporting it.
Concepts develop for many aspects of experience, including abstract internal states and abstract social activities that do not refer to concrete entities in the world. The current study assessed the hypothesis that, like concrete concepts, distributed neural patterns of relevant nonlinguistic semantic content represent the meanings of abstract concepts. In a novel neuroimaging paradigm, participants processed two abstract concepts (convince, arithmetic) and two concrete concepts (rolling, red) deeply and repeatedly during a concept-scene matching task that grounded each concept in typical contexts. Using a catch trial design, neural activity associated with each concept word was separated from neural activity associated with subsequent visual scenes to assess activations underlying the detailed semantics of each concept. We predicted that brain regions underlying mentalizing and social cognition (e.g., medial prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus) would become active to represent semantic content central to convince, whereas brain regions underlying numerical cognition (e.g., bilateral intraparietal sulcus) would become active to represent semantic content central to arithmetic. The results supported these predictions, suggesting that the meanings of abstract concepts arise from distributed neural systems that represent concept-specific content.
How do we, as humans, take in the feelings and thoughts of other people? Theory-of-Mind (ToM) and Embodied Simulation (ES) approaches hypothesize divergent neural and behavioral mechanisms underlying intersubjectivity. ToM investigators assert that humans take in the belief states and intentions of another person by holding "a theory of mind" that cognitively posits the other person's mental contents, with some experiments identifying the right temporo-parietal junction as a specific ToM brain region. ES theorists hypothesize that humans perceive the other's state of mind by simulating his/her actions, emotions, and goals in the "mirror neuron system" in the brain. A historical review suggests these understandings rely on opposing, dualist models of cognition and perception. William James's intervention on this earlier debate is informative in anticipating recent findings in low-level sensory neuroscience. Of specific interest are studies showing that intersubjectivity and low-level sensory attentional filtering are both processed in the same cortical area (the temporo-parietal junction) suggesting that the ability to entertain other minds may be related to the ability to perceive salient stimuli during attention-demanding tasks.
People believe they see emotion written on the faces of other people. In an instant, simple facial actions are transformed into information about another's emotional state. The present research examined whether a perceiver unknowingly contributes to emotion perception with emotion word knowledge. We present 2 studies that together support a role for emotion concepts in the formation of visual percepts of emotion. As predicted, we found that perceptual priming of emotional faces (e.g., a scowling face) was disrupted when the accessibility of a relevant emotion word (e.g., anger) was temporarily reduced, demonstrating that the exact same face was encoded differently when a word was accessible versus when it was not. The implications of these findings for a linguistically relative view of emotion perception are discussed.
Difficulties in social cognition are well recognized in individuals with autism spectrum conditions (henceforth ‘autism’). Here we focus on one crucial aspect of social cognition: the ability to empathize with the feelings of another. In contrast to theory of mind, a capacity that has often been observed to be impaired in individuals with autism, much less is known about the capacity of individuals with autism for affect sharing. Based on previous data suggesting that empathy deficits in autism are a function of interoceptive deficits related to alexithymia, we aimed to investigate empathic brain responses in autistic and control participants with high and low degrees of alexithymia. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we measured empathic brain responses with an ‘empathy for pain’ paradigm assessing empathic brain responses in a real-life social setting that does not rely on attention to, or recognition of, facial affect cues. Confirming previous findings, empathic brain responses to the suffering of others were associated with increased activation in left anterior insula and the strength of this signal was predictive of the degree of alexithymia in both autistic and control groups but did not vary as a function of group. Importantly, there was no difference in the degree of empathy between autistic and control groups after accounting for alexithymia. These findings suggest that empathy deficits observed in autism may be due to the large comorbidity between alexithymic traits and autism, rather than representing a necessary feature of the social impairments in autism.
This commentary reflects on the articles in this Special Issue. The appearance of this group of articles underscores the important idea that a major target of mindfulness practice is on emotion. Transformation in trait affect is a key goal of all contemplative traditions. This commentary addresses several key methodological and conceptual issues in the empirical study of mindfulness. The many ways in which the term "mindfulness" is used in the articles in this Special Issue are noted, and they include its reference to states, traits, and independent variables that are manipulated in an experimental context. How the term "mindfulness" is conceptualized and operationalized is crucial, and for progress to be made it is essential that we qualify the use of this term by reference to how it is being operationalized in each context. Other methodological issues are considered, such as the duration of training and how it should be measured, and the nature of control and comparison groups in studies of mindfulness-based interventions. Finally, the commentary ends with a consideration of the targets within emotion processing that are likely to be impacted by mindfulness. This collection of articles underscores the substantial progress that has occurred in the empirical study of mindfulness and it is a harbinger of a very promising future in this area.
According to the Conceptual Act Theory of Emotion, the situated conceptualization used to construe a situation determines the emotion experienced. A neuroimaging experiment tested two core hypotheses of this theory: (1) different situated conceptualizations produce different forms of the same emotion in different situations, (2) the composition of a situated conceptualization emerges from shared multimodal circuitry distributed across the brain that produces emotional states generally. To test these hypotheses, the situation in which participants experienced an emotion was manipulated. On each trial, participants immersed themselves in a physical danger or social evaluation situation and then experienced fear or anger. According to Hypothesis 1, the brain activations for the same emotion should differ as a function of the preceding situation (after removing activations that arose while constructing the situation). According to Hypothesis 2, the critical activations should reflect conceptual processing relevant to the emotion in the current situation, drawn from shared multimodal circuitry underlying emotion. The results supported these predictions and demonstrated the compositional process that produces situated conceptualizations dynamically.
Successful human social interaction depends on our capacity to understand other people's mental states and to anticipate how they will react to our actions. Despite its importance to the human condition, the exact mechanisms underlying our ability to understand another's actions, feelings, and thoughts are still a matter of conjecture. Here, we consider this problem from philosophical, psychological, and neuroscientific perspectives. In a critical review, we demonstrate that attempts to draw parallels across these complementary disciplines is premature: The second-person perspective does not map directly to Interaction or Simulation theories, online social cognition, or shared neural network accounts underlying action observation or empathy. Nor does the third-person perspective map onto Theory-Theory (TT), offline social cognition, or the neural networks that support Theory of Mind (ToM). Moreover, we argue that important qualities of social interaction emerge through the reciprocal interplay of two independent agents whose unpredictable behavior requires that models of their partner's internal state be continually updated. This analysis draws attention to the need for paradigms in social neuroscience that allow two individuals to interact in a spontaneous and natural manner and to adapt their behavior and cognitions in a response contingent fashion due to the inherent unpredictability in another person's behavior. Even if such paradigms were implemented, it is possible that the specific neural correlates supporting such reciprocal interaction would not reflect computation unique to social interaction but rather the use of basic cognitive and emotional processes combined in a unique manner. Finally, we argue that given the crucial role of social interaction in human evolution, ontogeny, and every-day social life, a more theoretically and methodologically nuanced approach to the study of real social interaction will nevertheless help the field of social cognition to evolve.
Drawing from theories regarding the role of awareness in behavioral self-regulation, this research was designed to examine the role of mindfulness as a moderator between implicit motivation and the motivation for day-to-day behavior. We hypothesized that dispositional mindfulness (Brown and Ryan, J Pers Soc Psychol, 84, 822–848, 2003) would act to modify the expression of implicit autonomy orientation in daily behavioral motivation. Using the Implicit Association Test (Greenwald et al. J Pers Soc Psychol, 74, 1464–1480, 1998), Study 1 provided evidence for the reliability and validity of a new measure of implicit autonomy orientation. Using an experience-sampling strategy, Study 2 showed the hypothesized moderating effect, such that implicit autonomy orientation predicted day-to-day motivation only for those lower in dispositional mindfulness. Those higher in mindfulness showed more autonomously motivated behavior regardless of implicit orientation toward autonomy or heteronomy. It also showed that this moderating effect of awareness was specific to mindfulness and was primarily manifest in spontaneous behavior. Discussion focuses on the implications of these findings for dual process theory and research.
Social neuro-science has recently started to investigate the neuronal mechanisms underlying our ability to understand the mental and emotional states of others. In this review, imaging research conducted on theory of mind (ToM or mentalizing) and empathy is selectively reviewed. It is proposed that even though these abilities are often used as synonyms in the literature these capacities represent different abilities that rely on different neuronal circuitry. ToM refers to our ability to understand mental states such as intentions, goals and beliefs, and relies on structures of the temporal lobe and the pre-frontal cortex. In contrast, empathy refers to our ability to share the feelings (emotions and sensations) of others and relies on sensorimotor cortices as well as limbic and para-limbic structures. It is further argued that the concept of empathy as used in lay terms refers to a multi-level construct extending from simple forms of emotion contagion to complex forms of cognitive perspective taking. Future research should investigate the relative contribution of empathizing and mentalizing abilities in the understanding of other people's states. Finally, it is suggested that the abilities to understand other people's thoughts and to share their affects display different ontogenetic trajectories reflecting the different developmental paths of their underlying neural structures. In particular, empathy develops much earlier than mentalizing abilities, because the former relys on limbic structures which develop early in ontogeny, whereas the latter rely on lateral temporal lobe and pre-frontal structures which are among the last to fully mature.
This review provides an overview of the field of social neuroscience from a European perspective and focuses mainly on outlining research topics which originated in European laboratories. After a brief historical synopsis of the emergence of this young field, the most relevant findings related to the investigation of the neural networks underlying our capacity to understand the minds of others are summarized. More specifically, three routes of social cognition are distinguished: (1) our capacity to mentalize, or to infer intentions and beliefs of others, (2) our capacity to mimic and understand other's motor actions, and (3) our capacity to empathize, or to share and understand the feelings of others. More recent studies focusing on social emotions such as love, compassion, revenge or our sense of fairness will be discussed linking the field of social neuroscience to the even younger field of neuroeconomics, with the focus on the study of human social interactions using game theoretical paradigms. Finally, the use of a multi-method and multi-disciplinary research approach combining genetic, pharmacological, computational and developmental aspects is advocated and future directions for the study of interactive minds are discussed.
Evidence that placebo acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic pain presents a puzzle: how do placebo needles appearing to patients to penetrate the body, but instead sitting on the skin’s surface in the manner of a tactile stimulus, evoke a healing response? Previous accounts of ritual touch healing in which patients often described enhanced touch sensations (including warmth, tingling or flowing sensations) suggest an embodied healing mechanism. In this qualitative study, we asked a subset of patients in a singleblind randomized trial in irritable bowel syndrome to describe their treatment experiences while undergoing placebo treament. Analysis focused on patients’ unprompted descriptions of any enhanced touch sensations (e.g., warmth, tingling) and any significance patients assigned to the sensations. We found in 5/6 cases, patients associated sensations including “warmth” and “tingling” with treatment efficacy. The conclusion offers a “neurophenomenological” account of the placebo effect by considering dynamic effects of attentional filtering on early sensory cortices, possibly underlying the phenomenology of placebo acupuncture.
Successful decision making in a social setting depends on our ability to understand the intentions, emotions and beliefs of others. The mirror system allows us to understand other people's motor actions and action intentions. ‘Empathy’ allows us to understand and share emotions and sensations with others. ‘Theory of mind’ allows us to understand more abstract concepts such as beliefs or wishes in others. In all these cases, evidence has accumulated that we use the specific neural networks engaged in processing mental states in ourselves to understand the same mental states in others. However, the magnitude of the brain activity in these shared networks is modulated by contextual appraisal of the situation or the other person. An important feature of decision making in a social setting concerns the interaction of reason and emotion. We consider four domains where such interactions occur: our sense of fairness, altruistic punishment, trust and framing effects. In these cases, social motivations and emotions compete with each other, while higher-level control processes modulate the interactions of these low-level biases.