This article is part of the Research Topic Towards a neuroscience of social interaction

Hypothesis & Theory ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 07 June 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00163

The interactive brain hypothesis

  • 1Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, Ikerbasque - Basque Science Foundation, San Sebastian, Bizkaia, Spain
  • 2Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), San Sebastian, Bizkaia, Spain
  • 3Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK

Enactive approaches foreground the role of interpersonal interaction in explanations of social understanding. This motivates, in combination with a recent interest in neuroscientific studies involving actual interactions, the question of how interactive processes relate to neural mechanisms involved in social understanding. We introduce the Interactive Brain Hypothesis (IBH) in order to help map the spectrum of possible relations between social interaction and neural processes. The hypothesis states that interactive experience and skills play enabling roles in both the development and current function of social brain mechanisms, even in cases where social understanding happens in the absence of immediate interaction. We examine the plausibility of this hypothesis against developmental and neurobiological evidence and contrast it with the widespread assumption that mindreading is crucial to all social cognition. We describe the elements of social interaction that bear most directly on this hypothesis and discuss the empirical possibilities open to social neuroscience. We propose that the link between coordination dynamics and social understanding can be best grasped by studying transitions between states of coordination. These transitions form part of the self-organization of interaction processes that characterize the dynamics of social engagement. The patterns and synergies of this self-organization help explain how individuals understand each other. Various possibilities for role-taking emerge during interaction, determining a spectrum of participation. This view contrasts sharply with the observational stance that has guided research in social neuroscience until recently. We also introduce the concept of readiness to interact to describe the practices and dispositions that are summoned in situations of social significance (even if not interactive). This latter idea links interactive factors to more classical observational scenarios.

Keywords: social interaction, enaction, participatory sense-making, autonomy, transitions in coordination, readiness to interact, interactive brain hypothesis

Citation: Di Paolo E and De Jaegher H (2012) The interactive brain hypothesis. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:163. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2012.00163

Received: 27 February 2012; Accepted: 22 May 2012;
Published online: 07 June 2012.

Edited by:

Ulrich Pfeiffer, University Hospital Cologne, Germany

Reviewed by:

Scott Kelso, Florida Atlantic University, USA
Evan Thompson, University of Toronto, Canada

Copyright: © 2012 Di Paolo and De Jaegher. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.

*Correspondence: Ezequiel Di Paolo, Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, Ikerbasque - Basque Science Foundation, Av De Tolosa 70, 20018, San Sebastian, Bizkaia, Spain. e-mail:

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