New Paper, I. Hipólito, T. van Es (2022), Enactive-Dynamic Social Cognition and Active Inference

Published open-access in Frontiers in Psychology

Abstract: This aim of this paper is two-fold: it critically analyses and rejects accounts blending active inference as theory of mind and enactivism; and it advances an enactivist-dynamic understanding of social cognition that is compatible with active inference. While some social cognition theories seemingly take an enactive perspective on social cognition, they explain it as the attribution of mental states to other people, by assuming representational structures, in line with the classic Theory of Mind (ToM). Holding both enactivism and ToM, we argue, entails contradiction and confusion due to two ToM assumptions widely known to be rejected by enactivism: that (1) social cognition reduces to mental representation and (2) social cognition is a hardwired contentful ‘toolkit’ or ‘starter pack’ that fuels the model-like theorising supposed in (1). The paper offers a positive alternative, one that avoids contradictions or confusion. After rejecting ToM-inspired theories of social cognition and clarifying the profile of social cognition under enactivism, that is without assumptions (1) and (2), the last section advances an enactivist-dynamic model of cognition as dynamic, real-time, fluid, contextual social action, where we use the formalisms of dynamical systems theory to explain the origins of socio-cognitive novelty in developmental change and active inference as a tool to demonstrate social understanding as generalised synchronisation.