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


Commentary on alignment in social interactions

This commentary was just published in Frontiers in Psychology:

Commentary: Alignment in social interactions

Tom Froese and Leonardo Zapata-Fonseca

We welcome Gallotti et al.’s (2017) proposal to shift the study of social cognition from focusing on types of representation to types of interaction. This aligns with the enactive approach to social cognition (e.g., Froese and Di Paolo, 2011), which has long been arguing for this kind of shift (e.g., Varela, 2000; De Jaegher and Di Paolo, 2007). We offer some clarifications from this latter perspective, which will hopefully benefit the development of their proposal.

Chapter for OUP Handbook of 4E Cognition

Here is a pre-print version of my contribution to The Oxford Handbook of 4E Cognition, edited by Newen, de Bruin, and Gallagher.

Searching for the conditions of genuine intersubjectivity: From agent-based models to perceptual crossing experiments

Tom Froese

Enactivists are searching for the conditions of genuine intersubjectivity. Theory of mind approaches to social cognition have come a long way from folk psychological theorizing by paying more attention to neuroscientific evidence and phenomenological insights. This has led to hybrid accounts that incorporate automatic processing and allow an instrumental role for perception and interaction. However, two foundational assumptions remain unquestioned. First, the cognitive unconscious: explanations assume there is a privileged domain of subpersonal mechanisms that operate in terms of representational personal-level concepts (belief, desire, inference, pretense, etc.), albeit unconsciously. Second, methodological individualism: explanations of social capacities are limited to mechanisms contained within the individual. The enactive approach breaks free from these representationalist-internalist constraints by integrating personal-level phenomenology with multi-scale dynamics occurring within and between subjects. This formal and empirical research on social interaction supports the possibility of genuine intersubjectivity: we can directly participate in the unfolding of each other’s experience.

Research page updated

I finally found some time to update the research page of my website. Here is the opening paragraph:

I am a cognitive scientist interested in understanding the complexities of the human mind on the basis of embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive approaches to cognition (so called “4E cognition”). For me this means systematically investigating how our minds are shaped by being alive, by being sensorimotor animals, and by us leading socially, technologically, and culturally constituted ways of life (Froese and Di Paolo 2011; Torrance and Froese 2011). One of the most promising approaches to better appreciate the role these different facets can play is to try to understand their origins and the qualitative changes their appearance implies.

The rest can be found here on the research page.

Video: Introduction to enactive cognitive science

A video of my talk for the Society for Cognitive Science and Philosophy (SCSP) has been made available online with accompanying slides. The recording was made on Feb. 26, 2016, at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic.

The tile is “Introduction to enactive cognitive science”.


New research project grant received

I am happy to report that my application for the 2017 call for research projects issued by UNAM’s “Programa de Apoyo a Proyectos de Investigación e Innovación Tecnológica” (PAPIIT) was successful.

The project is entitled “Explorando los alcances de la auto-organización social: desde la cultura hasta la célula” (IA104717). Its overarching aim is to support the activities of the 4E Cognition Group.

Workshop on Narrative Therapy and Cultural Affordances

Here is information about this Friday’s little workshop:

Workshop on Narrative Therapy and Cultural Affordances

Friday 25th November 2016
Northfield’s Campus, University of Wollongong
14:00-18:00, Room 19.G015, Building 19

Narrative therapy is based on the premise that people are the experts of their own lives, and that they have skills, beliefs, and values that will assist them to reduce the influence of problems. As its name suggests, this approach emphasizes the therapeutic potential of the stories that people narrate about their lives. In particular, its efficacy is assumed to reside in the differences that can be made through particular tellings and retellings, which involves finding ways of understanding the stories, and ways of re-authoring them in collaboration with the therapist.

This workshop will evaluate narrative therapy from a philosophical perspective. In particular, the aim is to discuss whether the narrative practice hypothesis about folk psychology could help to shed light on narrative therapy and its efficacy. Particular emphasis will be given to discuss the potential role of reshaping one’s culturally mediated affordances for action.


Daniel D. Hutto, Professor of Philosophical Psychology, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, UOW
Tom Froese, Vice Chancellor’s International Scholar, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, UOW & Research Institute for Applied Mathematics and Systems, National Autonomous University of Mexico
Glenda Satne, Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, UOW
Nicolle Brancazio and Jarrah Aubourg, Doctoral Candidates, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, UOW
Miguel Segundo Ortin, Doctoral Candidate, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, UOW
Farid Zahnoun, Visiting Doctoral Candidate, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry, UOW & Centre for Philosophical Psychology, Department of Philosophy, University of Antwerp.

All welcome.

Talk on genuine intersubjectivity at UOW, Australia

I was awarded a Vice-Chancellor’s International Scholar Award to come to the University of Wollongong in Australia from Oct 3 to Dec 3 this year. The aim of my visit is to integrate Dan Hutto and his group’s work on radical enactive philosophy of mind at the School of Humanities and Social Inquiry with the empirical work on the earliest symbolic expressions conducted by members of the university’s Center for Archaeological Science.

As part of my stay here I am scheduled to give a public seminar on my research into social interaction. Here is the announcement:

Title/Topic: When me and you are more than two: Searching for the conditions of genuine intersubjectivity
Speaker: Dr. Tom Froese (National Autonomous University of Mexico; UOW VISA Fellow)
Time: 3.30 to 5.00pm
Place: 19.2072 (Research Hub)
Contact: Michael Kirchhoff (

Abstract: The most meaningful experiences in our lives derive much of their significance from being shared with other people. However, is it actually possible to share a moment such that there are two subjects of one experience? Mainstream cognitive science is forced to reject this possibility of genuine intersubjectivity because another person can only play an instrumental role in the generation of one’s experience. Essentially, our experiences with family, friends, and loved ones do not involve them at all; these experiences are ultimately constituted by mental representations in one’s mind for which they can, at best, serve as an external cause or trigger. In this talk I question the validity of this solipsistic approach. Drawing on insights from dynamical systems modeling, I consider the basic conditions that would allow interacting individuals to become transformed into one integrated system with collective properties. I then present the latest evidence from psychological experiments that investigate the role that social interaction plays in shaping our awareness of other minds. I conclude that there is nothing mysterious about the possibility of genuine intersubjectivity.

Translation of perceptual crossing analysis

A Spanish translation of the perceptual crossing study of the development of social awareness has been published in the 2016 book Cognición: Estudios Multidisciplinarios by the Centro de Estudios Filosóficos, Políticos y Sociales Vicente Lombardo Toledano in Mexico City.

Interfaces humano-computadora mínimas para el estudio del desarrollo interactivo de la conciencia social

Tom Froese, Hiroyuki Iizuka & Takashi Ikegami

De acuerdo al enfoque enactivo de las ciencias cognitivas, la percepción es esencialmente una forma habilidosa de abordar al mundo. Aprender como abordarlo mediante interfaces humano-computadora, (IHC) puede por lo tanto ser visto como una forma de desarrollar un nuevo modo de experiencia. De forma similar, se ha teorizado que la percepción social está constituida por una forma hábil de abordarse entre personas, lo que implica que es posible investigar los orígenes y desarrollo de la conciencia social utilizando IHCs multiusuario. En el presente artículo analizamos los cambios objetivos y subjetivos ensayo-a-ensayo en la socialización que tuvo lugar durante un experimento de cruce perceptual, en el cual, la interacción corporeizada entre pares de adultos fue mediada por una IHC háptica minimalista. Dado que el estudio requirió que los participantes reaprendieran implícitamente cómo abordarse entre sí para percibir las presencias el uno del otro, hipotetizamos que habría indicaciones de que los estadios iniciales de la conciencia social eran de hecho recapitulados. Resultados preliminares revelan que, pese a una carencia de retroalimentación explicita sobre el desempeño de la tarea, había una tendencia de la conciencia social a incrementar a través del tiempo. Discutimos los desafíos metodológicos implicados en evaluar si esta tendencia fue causada por distintos estadios del desarrollo de conducta objetiva y experiencia subjetiva.

Cognición - Estudios Multidisciplinarios

The attentive brain, the deluded brain – what is reality?

AFFICHE_Reality_11_2015_V7_Oct_3Next week there will be a conference entitled “The attentive brain, the deluded brain – what is reality?” taking place from Nov. 4-7 in Mittelwihr, France.

The organizers encourage attendants to think out of the box and discover new horizons at the cross-roads of science and meditation.

I have been invited as a keynote speaker and workshop contributor. The title and abstract of my main contribution are as follows:

How isolated are we really? Toward a science of being-with others

Tom Froese

Traditional cognitive science has approached the phenomenon of understanding others in terms of a Theory of Mind framework. This framework was originally proposed to overcome the problems raised by a pair of seemingly self-evident assumptions: 1) mind is a property of an isolated brain, 2) a person’s mind, like their brain, is therefore completely hidden from the perceptual perspective of others. If so, then any scientific theory of social understanding must explain how one individual’s internal mechanism can infer meaning from another individual’s meaningless external physical movements. I will try to demonstrate that this is a misguided explanatory project for several reasons. When we interact with others we normally do not perceive them as mindless zombies, nor is our mind isolated from them. Therefore, what is needed is a scientific theory that can do justice to the perceptual presence of others and our mental interconnectedness.

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