Paper: Is it normal to be a principal mindreader?

After collaborating with experts in psychiatry for several years, we have launched a critique of cognitivist theory of mind on the basis of phenomenological psychopathology. Our first paper has just been published in Research in Developmental Disabilities.

The title and abstract are as follows:

Is it normal to be a principal mindreader? Revising theories of social cognition on the basis of schizophrenia and high functioning autism-spectrum disorders

Tom Froese, Giovanni Stanghellini, Marco O. Bertelli

Schizophrenia and high functioning autism-spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurodevelopmental conditions that mainly impair social competence, while general intelligence (IQ) is spared. Both disorders have a strong ancillary role in theoretical research on social cognition. Recently the debate has started to be inflected by embodied and phenomenological approaches, which claim that the standard portrayal of all social understanding as so-called ‘mindreading’, i.e. the attribution of mental states to others in the service of explaining and predicting their behavior, is misguided. Instead it is emphasized that we normally perceive others directly as conscious and goal-directed persons, without requiring any theorizing and/or simulation. This paper evaluates some of the implications of abnormal experiences reported by people with schizophrenia and ASD for the current debate in cognitive science. For these people the practice of explicit mindreading seems to be a compensatory strategy that ultimately fails to compensate for – and may even exacerbate – their impairment of intuitive and interactive social understanding. Phenomenological psychopathology thereby supports the emerging view that ‘mindreading’ is not the principal form of normal social understanding.

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