is Professor of Physiology at the Dept. of Neuroscience of the University of Parma, Italy, where he coordinates the PhD Program in Neuroscience. Neuroscientist, his research interests focus on the cognitive role of the motor system and on an embodied account of social cognition. His major contribution is the discovery, together with his colleagues, of mirror neurons. He has worked at University of Lausanne, Switzerland, at Nihon University of Tokyo, Japan, and at University of California at Berkeley, USA. He received the Grawemeyer Award for Psychology from the University of Louisvile, KY in 2007 and the Doctor Honoris Causa from the Catholic University of Leuven in 2010.
Our seemingly effortless capacity of conceiving of the acting bodies inhabiting our social world as goal-oriented persons like us depends on the constitution of a shared “we-centric” space. I have proposed that this shared manifold space can be characterized at the functional level as embodied simulation, a basic functional mechanism by means of which our brain/body system models its interactions with the world.
The mirroring mechanism for action and other mirroring mechanisms in our brain represent sub-personal instantiations of embodied simulation. Embodied simulation provides a new empirically based notion of intersubjectivity, viewed first and foremost as intercorporeity. Embodied simulation challenges the notion that Folk-psychology is the sole account of interpersonal understanding. Before and below mind reading is intercorporeity as the main source of knowledge we directly gather about others. Parallel to the detached third-person sensory description of the observed social stimuli, internal non-linguistic “representations” of the body-states associated with actions, emotions, and sensations are evoked in the observer, as if he or she were performing a similar action or experiencing a similar emotion or sensation. It must be stressed that the term “representation” as used here refers to a particular type of content, generated by the relations that our situated and inter-acting brain-body system instantiates with the world of others. Such content is pre-linguistic and pre-theoretical, but nevertheless has attributes normally and uniquely attributed to conceptual content.
By means of an isomorphic format we can map others’ actions onto our own motor representations, as well as others’ emotions and sensations onto our own viscero-motor and somatosensory representations. Social cognition is not only explicitly reasoning about the contents of someone else’s mind. Our brains, and those of other primates, appear to have developed a basic functional mechanism, embodied simulation, which gives us a direct insight of other minds thus enabling our capacity to empathize with others.
This proposal opens new perspectives on our understanding of autism and other psychopathological states such as schizophrenia.
Gallese, V., Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L. and Rizzolatti, G. (1996) Action recognition in the premotor cortex. Brain 119: 593-609.
Gallese, V. (2003) The manifold nature of interpersonal relations: The quest for a common mechanism. Phil. Trans. Royal Soc. London, 358: 517-528.
Gallese, V., Keysers, C. and Rizzolatti, G. (2004) A unifying view of the basis of social cognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8: 396-403.
Gallese V. (2007) Before and below 'theory of mind': Embodied simulation and the neural correlates of social cognition. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci., 362: 659-669.
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