Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 417–437 | Cite as

Self–other contingencies: Enacting social perception



Can we see the expressiveness of other people's gestures, hear the intentions in their voice, see the emotions in their posture? Traditional theories of social cognition still say we cannot because intentions and emotions for them are hidden away inside and we do not have direct access to them. Enactive theories still have no idea because they have so far mainly focused on perception of our physical world. We surmise, however, that the latter hold promise since, in trying to understand cognition, enactive theory focuses on the embodied engagements of a cognizer with his world. In this paper, we attempt an answer for the question What is social perception in an enactive account? In enaction, perception is conceived as a skill, crucially involving action (perception is action and action is perception), an ability to work successfully within the set of regularities, or contingencies that characterize a given domain. If this is the case, then social perception should be a social skill. Having thus transformed the question of what social perception is into that of what social skill is, we examine the concept of social contingencies and the manner in which social skills structure—both constrain and empower—social interaction. Some of the implications of our account for how social and physical perception differ, the role of embodiment in social interaction and the distinction between our approach and other social contingency theories are also addressed.


Autonomy Cognition Cultural psychology Embodiment Enaction Intersubjectivity Participatory sense-making Perception Social interaction Self Skill 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMary Immaculate CollegeLimerickIreland
  2. 2.Department of General PsychiatryUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  3. 3.Centre of Computational Neuroscience and RoboticsUniversity of SussexFalmerUK

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