Interactive development of social awareness

A study done with Hiro Iizuka and Takashi Ikegami about the recapitulation of the development of social awareness in pars of adults engaged in minimal embodied interaction.

Using minimal human-computer interfaces for studying the interactive development of social awareness

Tom Froese, Hiroyuki Iizuka, and Takashi Ikegami

According to the enactive approach to cognitive science, perception is essentially a skillful engagement with the world. Learning how to engage via a human-computer interface (HCI) can therefore be taken as an instance of developing a new mode of experiencing. Similarly, social perception is theorized to be primarily constituted by skillful engagement between people, which implies that it is possible to investigate the origins and development of social awareness using multi-user HCIs. We analyzed the trial-by-trial objective and subjective changes in sociality that took place during a perceptual crossing experiment in which embodied interaction between pairs of adults was mediated over a minimalist haptic HCI. Froese 2014 - FrontiersSince that study required participants to implicitly relearn how to mutually engage so as to perceive each other’s presence, we hypothesized that there would be indications that the initial developmental stages of social awareness were recapitulated. Preliminary results reveal that, despite the lack of explicit feedback about task performance, there was a trend for the clarity of social awareness to increase over time. We discuss the methodological challenges involved in evaluating whether this trend was characterized by distinct developmental stages of objective behavior and subjective experience.

doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01061

Neural coordination can be enhanced by occasional interruption of normal firing patterns

Several lines of evidence suggest that resetting your mind once in a while can have beneficial effects. Here we show how this can be so.

Neural coordination can be enhanced by occasional interruption of normal firing patterns: A self-optimizing spiking neural network model

Alexander Woodward, Tom Froese and Takashi Ikegami

The state space of a conventional Hopfield network typically exhibits many different attractors of which only a small subset satisfy constraints between neurons in a globally optimal fashion. It has recently been demonstrated that combining Hebbian learning with occasional alterations of normal neural states avoids this problem by means of self-organized enlargement of the best basins of attraction. However, so far it is not clear to what extent this process of self-optimization is also operative in real brains. Here we demonstrate that it can be transferred to more biologically plausible neural networks by implementing a self-optimizing spiking neural network model. In addition, by using this spiking neural network to emulate a Hopfield network with Hebbian learning, we attempt to make a connection between rate-based and temporal coding based neural systems. Heterosynaptic plasticityAlthough further work is required to make this model more realistic, it already suggests that the efficacy of the self-optimizing process is independent from the simplifying assumptions of a conventional Hopfield network. We also discuss natural and cultural processes that could be responsible for occasional alteration of neural firing patterns in actual brains.

Interviews on TV and radio

My research was recently featured on Mexican TV and radio:

FOROtv. (2014, August 22). Creadores Universitarios [TV broadcast]. Televisa. Retrieved from

Isita, R. (Host). (2014, August 24). Imagen en la ciencia. [Radio broadcast]. Mexico, DF: Imagen Radio 90.5 FM. Retrieved from

Conexión emocional: un fenómeno neuronal

UNAM has released an ad campaign about the values of innovation based on our research into embodied social interaction. The full page announcement has already appeared in the Mexican news magazines Impacto and Proceso.

Conexión emocional: un fenómeno neuronal. El Instituto de Investigaciones en Matemáticas Aplicadas y en Sistemas de la UNAM comprobó con un modelo computacional que la conexión emocional entre dos personas que se identifican efectiva, sentimental o socialmente, no es sólo una sensación, sino una interacción real entre ambos cerebros.

The Enactive Torch in the news

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have started testing the Enactive Torch for use by people who are visually impaired. Here are two reports:

Robinette, T. (2014, August 11). ‘Seeing’ through virtual touch is believing. University of Cincinnati News. Retrieved from

Rivas, A. (2014, August 11). Visually impaired will benefit from new infrared device: Enactive Torch helps the blind to ‘see’ without canes. Medical Daily. Retrieved from

Talk at “The Connected Past London 2014″

Some of the research I have been doing in collaboration with my colleagues in Colombia will be presented by Nathalie Mezza-Garcia at The Connected Past London 2014. The title of our contribution is:

Computational Aspects of Ancient Social Heterarchies: Learning how to Address Contemporary Global Challenges

Nathalie Mezza-Garcia, Tom Froese and Nelson Fernández

In this talk we will discuss the social organization of different pre-Hispanic polities in Colombia from the perspective of complexity theory. Here is the extended abstract.

Interview on Radio Formula

On the 28th of June I was invited to participate in the radio show “Ciencia hasta la Cocina” of Radio Formula to talk about my research on social interaction. Here is a recording of the show:

Figueroa, A. (Host). (2014, June 28). Ciencia hasta la Cocina. [Radio broadcast]. Mexico, DF: Radio Formula. Retrieved from

Response to Helvenston

The journal Adaptive Behavior has published another round of short communications that were inspired by our paper on Turing patterns and altered states of consciousness. In her commentary, Helvenston raised a number of general concerns that, although somewhat unrelated to our original proposal, provided us with an opportunity to dig deeper into the literature in our response.

People in the Paleolithic could access the whole spectrum of consciousness: Response to Helvenston

Tom Froese, Alexander Woodward, and Takashi Ikegami

Three kinds of hallucinations have repeatedly been identified in the literature on altered states of consciousness (ASCs): visions of (1) geometric forms, (2) figures and objects, and (3) complete scenes. Lewis-Williams’ neuropsychological model draws on these reports to gain insights into the minds of Paleolithic people, on the basis of shared neurobiology and given comparative ethnographic data on ritualized ASCs. Helvenston has long rejected this model because in many ASCs hallucinations do not always adhere to a strict 1-2-3 sequence, because they do not always feature animals, and because people do not always lose their critical faculties. She is right, but she is attacking a straw man because these criteria are her own. Helvenston’s claims about the effects of psychoactive compounds and sensory deprivation are also questionable. It remains an open question how our Turing pattern model relates to more figurative forms of hallucinations.

New paper on the phenomenology of synesthesia

During my time as a postdoc at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science in Brighton I was conducting explicitation interviews to explore the experience of people with synesthesia. It was hard work to analyze the transcripts, but I’m happy that our perseverance has finally paid off.

An extended case study on the phenomenology of sequence-space synesthesia

C. Gould, T. Froese, A. B. Barrett, J. Ward and A. K. Seth

Investigation of synesthesia phenomenology in adults is needed to constrain accounts of developmental trajectories of this trait. We report an extended phenomenological investigation of sequence-space synesthesia in a single case (AB). We used the Elicitation Interview (EI) method to facilitate repeated exploration of AB’s synesthetic experience. During an EI the subject’s attention is selectively guided by the interviewer in order to reveal precise details about the experience. Detailed analysis of the resulting 9 h of interview transcripts provided a comprehensive description of AB’s synesthetic experience, including several novel observations. For example, we describe a specific spatial reference frame (a “mental room”) in which AB’s concurrents occur, and which overlays his perception of the real world (the “physical room”). AB is able to switch his attention voluntarily between this mental room and the physical room. Exemplifying the EI method, some of our observations were previously unknown even to AB. For example, AB initially reported to experience concurrents following visual presentation, yet we determined that in the majority of cases the concurrent followed an internal verbalization of the inducer, indicating an auditory component to sequence-space synesthesia. This finding is congruent with typical rehearsal of inducer sequences during development, implicating cross-modal interactions between auditory and visual systems in the genesis of this synesthetic form. To our knowledge, this paper describes the first application of an EI to synesthesia, and the first systematic longitudinal investigation of the first-person experience of synesthesia since the re-emergence of interest in this topic in the 1980’s. These descriptions move beyond rudimentary graphical or spatial representations of the synesthetic spatial form, thereby providing new targets for neurobehavioral analysis.

This paper is also available from Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Report about my research in the Mexican national news

The robot model of interactional coupling was created in collaboration with David Rosenblueth and Carlos Gershenson. The psychological experiment of perceptual crossing was conducted in collaboration with Takashi Ikegami and Hiro Iizuka.

Azteca Noticias. (2014, June 25). Estudio científico logra sincronizar cerebros [Video file]. Retrieved from

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