Monday, October 15, 2007

Simulation and Stances II: The Intentional Stance

How can we assess intentions? How does ‘folk psychology’, Theory of Mind, or ‘the intentional stance’ work?
Basically, there are two competing theories, the Theory Theory (TT) Simulation Theories (ST) of mind reading.
The simulation theory proposes that, instead of developing a full-fledged real theory about how to explain our own as well as other peoples' behavior and experience, we mentally try to simulate and imagine the internal states of others (Gopnik 1999).
An embodied perspective on this phenomenon suggests that at least some features of mind-reading are accounted for by ST (Poirier et al. 2005: 758f.). According to neuropsychological evidence, for example, the recognition of face-based emotions (FaBER), is better supported by simulationist accounts than by TT’s of mind-reading (Goldmann & Sripada 2005). As Poirier et al. (2005: 759) argue, it may be that in some situations, simulation may be a more direct means to gain insight into someone else’s, especially emotional, mental states.

Mirror Neurons

Another case for ST comes from the fact of ‘mirror neurons’, which discharge during the observation of goal-directed movement, and thus may be critical to understand others intentional states (Rizzolatti & Craighero 2004). It seems possible that we simulate the behavior of others via our ‘mirror system’ and ascribe to them the resulting intentional states. (Poirier et al. 2005: 759, Gallese et al. 2004). To interpret and integrate this intentional state, though, mirror neurons alone seem to be insufficient and in need of other social cognitive mechanisms, (Wheatley et al. 2007, Uddin et al. 2007, Gallagher 2007). On the other hand, mirror neurons play a greater role in the coding of intentions than is sometimes acknowledged, albeit depending on what we call an ‘intention’ (Iacoboni et al. 2005).

The Intentional Stance

Poirier et al. conclude that:
“the intentional stance is clearly a predictive strategy, which could (but does not always) make use of categories to which we have access not by deriving them from a theory, but by simulating the internal doxastic and volitional states of others on the basis of their behavior, context, and facial expression. Language can give access to higher order intentionality: an agent represents its own mental states as they mentally represent another agent’s mental states, and so on“ (p. 759)

In my next post on “Embodied Categorization”, I will write about Poirier et al.’s account of analogical categorizers.


Gallagher, Shaun. 2007 “Simulation Trouble”. Social Neuroscience 2.3/4: 353-365.

Gallese, Vittorio, Christian Keysers and Giacomo Rizzolatti. “A Unifying View of the
Basis of Social Cognition.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 8 (2004): 396–403.

Goldman Alvin I. and Chandra Sekhar Sripada. 2005. “Simulationist models of face-based emotion recognition” Cognition 94: 193-213.

Gopnik, Alison. 1999. “Theory of Mind.” The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences. Eds.Robert A. Wilson and Frank C. Keil. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 838-841.

Poirier, Pierre, Benoit Hardy-Vallée and Jean-Frédéric Depasquale. 2005. “Embodied Categorization.” Handbook of Categorization in Cognitive Science. Eds. Henri Cohen and Claire Lefebvre. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Iacoboni M, Molnar-Szakacs I, Gallese V, Buccino G, Mazziotta JC, et al. (2005) "Grasping the intentions of others with one’s own mirror neuron system." PLoS Biol 3(3): e79.

Rizzolatti, Giacomo and Laila Craighero. “The Mirror-Neuron System.” Annual Review of Neuroscience 27 (2004): 169–192.

Uddin, Lucina Q., Marco Iacoboni, Claudia Lange and Julian Paul Keenan. 2007. “The Self and Social Cognition: The Role of Cortical Midline Structures and Mirror Neurons.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 11.4 (2007): 153-157.

Wheatley, Thalia, Shawn C. Milleville and Alex Martin. 2007. “Understanding Animate Agents: Distinct Roles for the Social Network and Mirror System.” Psychological Science 18.6 : 469-474.

No comments: