Measuring the role of passive touch in social perception

We were able to demonstrate that we have the clearest awareness of the presence of another person when we feel them touching us. This conclusion is perhaps not entirely unexpected, but it is nice because it is the first time that the notion of passive touch, which was developed by phenomenological philosophy and developmental psychology, has been empirically measured and quantified.

A Sensorimotor Signature of the Transition to Conscious Social Perception: Co-regulation of Active and Passive Touch

Hiroki Kojima, Tom Froese, Mizuki Oka, Hiroyuki Iizuka, and Takashi Ikegami

It is not yet well understood how we become conscious of the presence of other people as being other subjects in their own right. Developmental and phenomenological approaches are converging on a relational hypothesis: my perception of a “you” is primarily constituted by another subject’s attention being directed toward “me.” This is particularly the case when my body is being physically explored in an intentional manner. We set out to characterize the sensorimotor signature of the transition to being aware of the other by re-analyzing time series of embodied interactions between pairs of adults (recorded during a “perceptual crossing” experiment). Measures of turn-taking and movement synchrony were used to quantify social coordination, and transfer entropy was used to quantify direction of influence. We found that the transition leading to one’s conscious perception of the other’s presence was indeed characterized by a significant increase in one’s passive reception of the other’s tactile stimulations. Unexpectedly, one’s clear experience of such passive touch was consistently followed by a switch to active touching of the other, while the other correspondingly became more passive, which suggests that this intersubjective experience was reciprocally co-regulated by both participants.

Kojima et al. 2017 - Figure 8


Keynote at “The sensorimotor foundations of social cognition”

I have been invited as a keynote speaker to an autumn school on “The sensorimotor foundations of social cognition” organized by the Horizon 2020 project Socializing sensorimotor contingencies (socSMCs).

The event will take place in Boltenhagen by the Baltic Sea, Germany, October 11-17, 2015. My title and abstract are as follows:

Enactive and phenomenological approaches to social cognition

Tom Froese

One of the most central and also controversial claims of the enactive approach is that embodied social interaction is constitutive of social cognition. Evolutionary robotics modeling and dynamical systems theory demonstrate that at least in principle there is nothing mysterious about this claim. But can it also be verified experimentally? The most promising results so far are based on the “perceptual crossing” paradigm, in which pairs of participants interact haptically in real-time via a minimalist human-computer interface. They try to locate each other in the virtual space while avoiding distractor objects. It has repeatedly been shown that individuals’ actions become interactively self-organized in a way that collectively enhances task success. However, until recently there was no evidence that this sensorimotor self-organization was also experienced from the point of view of the participants, thereby calling into question whether it constitutively affected their social cognition. I will present the latest studies in which an accompanying phenomenology of intersubjectivity was clearly reported and quantified, thereby enabling us to identify the specific pattern of sensorimotor coupling underlying the emergence of a consciously shared moment of experience. This is some of the first evidence supporting the concept of a genuine and irreducible second-person perspective that is mutually enacted via joint actions. Intriguingly, the process of its emergence shares similarities with the first stages that are hypothesized to occur during the development of social awareness in pre-verbal infants.

Talk: Putting the enactive theory of social cognition to the test

I was invited to give a talk as part of the seminar series organized by the project “Racionalidad, razonamiento, y cognición” at the Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas of UNAM.

Putting the Enactive Theory of Social Cognition to the Test

Dr. Tom Froese
Wednesday, October 15
Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas

In this talk I will argue that the enactive approach to social interaction is the most promising contender among the variety of recent embodied and extended accounts of social cognition and philosophy of mind. It has the virtue of making specific predictions that can be experimentally evaluated. I will present a couple of studies we have conducted and whose results support the enactive approach. I will focus in particular on a psychological experiment about social awareness.

Froese - Putting the Enactive Theory of Social Cognition to the Test