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.

Embodied social interaction constitutes social cognition in pairs of humans

It’s been many years since first I started working on agent-based models to demonstrate that social interaction dynamics can constitute individual behavior. I’m very happy and excited to announce that we finally managed to verify some of the predictions that we generated on the basis of the models, as well as of enactive theory more generally, in an actual psychological experiment. I think this is perhaps the strongest empirical evidence we have yet for the interactive constitution of individual cognition, including of intersubjective experience!

Embodied social interaction constitutes social cognition in pairs of humans: A minimalist virtual reality experiment

Tom Froese, Hiroyuki Iizuka & Takashi Ikegami

Scientists have traditionally limited the mechanisms of social cognition to one brain, but recent approaches claim that interaction also realizes cognitive work. Experiments under constrained virtual settings revealed that interaction dynamics implicitly guide social cognition. Here we show that embodied social interaction can be constitutive of agency detection and of experiencing another’s presence. Pairs of participants moved their “avatars” along an invisible virtual line and could make haptic contact with three identical objects, two of which embodied the other’s motions, but only one, the other’s avatar, also embodied the other’s contact sensor and thereby enabled responsive interaction. Co-regulated interactions were significantly correlated with identifications of the other’s avatar and reports of the clearest awareness of the other’s presence. These results challenge folk psychological notions about the boundaries of mind, but make sense from evolutionary and developmental perspectives: an extendible mind can offload cognitive work into its environment.

The article is also available for open access here: