About this topic
Summary

Joint attention involves two (or more) subjects attending to an event or object together, where the attention of each participant is to some degree dependent on the attention of the other. It is sometimes said that joint attention is ‘wholly overt’ or ‘out in the open’ between the participants, where this means that they are both fully aware that they are together attending to the event or object (although so-called 'lean' accounts of joint attention, deny that this is a necessary condition for joint attention).  A canonical example of joint attention would be where two people are sitting opposite each other, discussing and observing an object that lies between them. The phenomena can be contrasted with shared attention where two people are each attending to an object, but are doing so separately, such that the attention of each person is of no relevance to the other, and does not figure in their experience.

Philosophical discussions of joint attention have tended to focus on two questions: firstly, how the apparent epistemic and phenomenological openness of joint attention can be explained without recourse to a complex series of overlapping and embedded mental states. Secondly, how joint attention can be understood as providing a normative and evidential basis for communication and joint action.  Within cognitive science, joint attention has been discussed with relation to the nature of autism, the Theory of Mind debate, the development of communicative intentions and the development of word-learning in infants. 

Key works

There are three edited volumes that contain many of the key texts in this area - Moore & Dunham 1995 Eilan et al 2005 and Seemann 2012. The first is predominantly written by psychologists, while the latter two include a mix of contributions by philosophers, neuroscientists and psychologists. Early discussions in philosophy relating to the topic of joint attention can be found in Husserl 1964, Schutz 1970,Schiffer 1972 and Davidson 1992. Early discussions in the developmental psychology literature can be found in Scaife and Bruner 1975 and Trevarthen 1979.

Introductions

The introductions to Moore & Dunham 1995 Eilan et al 2005, and Seemann 2012 would provide the student with a good starting point on the topic. 

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  1. Kristin Andrews & Ljiljana Radenovic (2006). Speaking Without Interpreting: A Reply to Bouma on Autism and Davidsonian Interpretation. Philosophical Psychology 19 (5):663 – 678.
    We clarify some points previously made by Andrews, and defend the claim that Davidson's account of belief can be and is challenged by the existence of some people with autism. We argue that both Bouma and Andrews (Philosophical Psychology, 15) blurred the subtle distinctions between the psychological concepts of theory of mind and joint attention and the Davidsonian concepts of interpretation and triangulation. And we accept that appeal to control group studies is not the appropriate place to look for an (...)
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  2. Edward G. Armstrong (1977). Intersubjective Intentionality. Midwestern Journal of Philosophy 5:1-11.
  3. Seemann Axel (ed.) (2012). Joint Attention: New Developments. MIT Press.
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  4. Michael D. Barber (2012). The Cartesian Residue in Intersubjectivity and Child Development. Schutzian Research 4:91-110.
    This paper argues that Husserl’s account of adult recognition of another allows for immediate, noninferential, analogical access to the other, though onedoes not experience the other’s experience as s/he does. The passive-associative processes at work in adult recognition of another make possible infant syncretic sociability and play a role in constituting the infant’s self prior to reflection. The reflective perspective of the psychologist and philosopher discovers that such infant experiences, though at first seeming indistinguishable from their parents’ experience, belong to (...)
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  5. Andrew P. Bayliss, Emily Murphy, Claire K. Naughtin, Ada Kritikos, Leonhard Schilbach & Stefanie I. Becker (2013). “Gaze Leading”: Initiating Simulated Joint Attention Influences Eye Movements and Choice Behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 142 (1):76.
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  6. Matteo Bianchin (forthcoming). From Joint Attention to Communicative Action Some Remarks on Critical Theory, Social Ontology and Cognitive Science. Philosophy and Social Criticism:0191453714556693.
    In this article I consider the relevance of Tomasello’s work on social cognition to the theory of communicative action. I argue that some revisions are needed to cope with Tomasello’s results, but they do not affect the core of the theory. Moreover, they arguably reinforce both its explanatory power and the plausibility of its normative claims. I proceed in three steps. First, I compare and contrast Tomasello’s views on the ontogeny of human social cognition with the main tenets of Habermas’ (...)
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  7. Matteo Bianchin (forthcoming). Simulation and the We-Mode. A Cognitive Account of Plural First Persons. Philosophy of the Social Sciences:0048393115580267.
    I argue that a capacity for mindreading conceived along the line of simulation theory provides the cognitive basis for forming we-centric representations of actions and goals. This explains the plural first personal stance displayed by we-intentions in terms of the underlying cognitive processes performed by individual minds, while preserving the idea that they cannot be analyzed in terms of individual intentional states. The implication for social ontology is that this makes sense of the plural subjectivity of joint actions without making (...)
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  8. Jason Bridges (2006). Davidson's Transcendental Externalism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 73 (2):290-315.
    One of the chief aims of Donald Davidson's later work was to show that participation in a certain causal nexus involving two creatures and a shared environment–Davidson calls this nexus “triangulation”–is a metaphysically necessary condition for the acquisition of thought. This doctrine, I suggest, is aptly regarded as a form of what I call transcendental externalism. I extract two arguments for the transcendental-externalist doctrine from Davidson's writings, and argue that neither succeeds. A central interpretive claim is that the arguments are (...)
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  9. Ingar Brinck (2001). Attention and the Evolution of Intentional Communication. Pragmatics and Cognition 9 (2):259-277.
    Intentional communication is perceptually based and about attentional objects. Three attention mechanisms are distinguished: scanning, attention attraction, and attention-focusing. Attention-focusing directs the subject towards attentional objects. Attention-focusing is goal-governed (controlled by stimulus) or goal-intended (under the control of the subject). Attentional objects are perceptually categorised functional entities that emerge in the interaction between subjects and environment. Joint attention allows for focusing on the same attentional object simultaneously (mutual object-focused attention), provided that the subjects have focused on each other beforehand (subject-subject (...)
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  10. Ingar Brinck & Peter Gärdenfors (2003). Co–Operation and Communication in Apes and Humans. Mind and Language 18 (5):484–501.
    We trace the difference between the ways in which apes and humans co–operate to differences in communicative abilities, claiming that the pressure for future–directed co–operation was a major force behind the evolution of language. Competitive co–operation concerns goals that are present in the environment and have stable values. It relies on either signalling or joint attention. Future–directed co–operation concerns new goals that lack fixed values. It requires symbolic communication and context–independent representations of means and goals. We analyse these ways of (...)
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  11. Ingar Brink (2004). Joint Attention, Triangulation and Radical Interpretation: A Problem and its Solution. Dialectica 58 (2):179–206.
    By describing the aim of triangulation as locating the object of thoughts and utterances, Davidson has given it the double role of accounting for both the individuation of content and the sense in which content necessarily is public. The focus of this article is on how triangulation may contribute to the individuation of content. I maintain that triangulation may serve to break into the intentional circle of meaning and belief, yet without forcing us to renounce the claims concerning the interdependence (...)
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  12. Lajos L. Brons (2012). Dharmakīrti, Davidson, and Knowing Reality. Comparative Philosophy 3 (1):30-57.
    If we distinguish phenomenal effects from their noumenal causes, the former being our conceptual(ized) experiences, the latter their grounds or causes in reality ‘as it is’ independent of our experience, then two contradictory positions with regards to the relationship between these two can be distinguished: either phenomena are identical with their noumenal causes, or they are not. Davidson is among the most influential modern defenders of the former position, metaphysical non-dualism. Dharmakīrti’s strict distinction between ultimate and conventional reality, on the (...)
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  13. Tyler Burge (2011). The Dewey Lectures 2007: Self and Self-Understanding. Journal of Philosophy 108 (6).
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  14. Stephen Andrew Butterfill, Pluralism About Joint Action.
    Shared Emotions, Joint Attention and Joint Action, Centre for Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, Aarhus University, Denmark, 26 October 2010.
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  15. Stephen Andrew Butterfill, Joint Action and Knowing Others' Minds.
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  16. George Butterworth (2004). Joint Visual Attention in Infancy. In Gavin Bremner & Alan Slater (eds.), Theories of Infant Development. Blackwell. 317--354.
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  17. Lawrence Cahoone (2013). Mead, Joint Attention, and the Human Difference. The Pluralist 8 (2):1-25.
    The struggle between the parties bent on inflating humanity's self-conception and those bent on deflating it continues. Mind, consciousness, soul, reason, free will, language, culture, tool-use—all have been invoked as the unique character of the human, some deriving from Judeo-Christian religion, others from classical philosophy and modern anthropology. Opponents, sometimes motivated by ethical concerns about the treatment of animals, and buoyed by scientific advances in animal and especially primate studies, have either deconstructed these traits or ascribed them to nonhumans. Seeking (...)
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  18. Josep Call & Michael Tomasello (2005). What Chimpanzees Know About Seeing, Revisited: An Explanation of the Third Kind. In Naomi Eilan, Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack & Johannes Roessler (eds.), Joint Attention: Communication and Other Minds. Issues in Philosophy and Psychology. Oxford University Press. 45--64.
    Chimpanzees follow the gaze of conspecifics and humans — follow it past distractors and behind barriers, ‘check back’ with humans when gaze following does not yield interesting sights, use gestures appropriately depending on the visual access of their recipient, and select different pieces of food depending on whether their competitor has visual access to them. Taken together, these findings make a strong case for the hypothesis that chimpanzees have some understanding of what other individuals can and cannot see. However, chimpanzees (...)
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  19. J. Campbell (2002). Joint Attention and Simulation. In Jerome Dokic & Joelle Proust (eds.), Simulation and Knowledge of Action. John Benjamins. 241-253 (with a reply by Elisabe.
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  20. J. Campbell (2002). Reference and Consciousness. Oxford University Press.
    John Campbell investigates how consciousness of the world explains our ability to think about the world; how our ability to think about objects we can see depends on our capacity for conscious visual attention to those things. He illuminates classical problems about thought, reference, and experience by looking at the underlying psychological mechanisms on which conscious attention depends.
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  21. John Campbell (forthcoming). An Object-Dependent Perspective on Joint Attention. In Axel Seemann (ed.), Joint Attention: New Developments in Philosophy, Psychology and Neuroscience. The MIT Press.
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  22. John Campbell (2005). Joint Attention and Common Knowledge. In Naomi M. Eilan, Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack & Johannes Roessler (eds.), Joint Attention: Communication and Other Minds: Issues in Philosophy and Psychology. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 287--297.
    This chapter makes the case for a relational version of an experientialist view of joint attention. On an experientialist view of joint attention, shifting from solitary attention to joint attention involves a shift in the nature of your perceptual experience of the object attended to. A relational analysis of such a view explains the latter shift in terms of the idea that, in joint attention, it is a constituent of your experience that the other person is, with you, jointly attending (...)
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  23. John Campbell (1998). Joint Attention and the First Person. In Anthony O'Hear (ed.), Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement. Cambridge University Press. 123-136..
    It is sometimes said that ordinary linguistic exchange, in ordinary conversation, is a matter of securing and sustaining joint attention. The minimal condition for the success of the conversation is that the participants should be attending to the same things. So the psychologist Michael Tomasello writes, ‘I take it as axiomatic that when humans use language to communicate referentially they are attempting to manipulate the attention of another person or persons.’ I think that this is an extremely fertile approach to (...)
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  24. Cristiano Castelfranchi (2000). Through the Agents' Minds: Cognitive Mediators of Social Action. Mind and Society 1 (1):109-140.
    Thesis: Macro-level social phenomena are implemented through the (social) actions and minds of the individuals. Without an explicit theory of the agents' minds that founds, agents' behavior we cannot understand macro-level social phenomena, and in particular how they work. AntiThesis: Mind is not enough: the theory of individual (social) mind and action is not enough to explain several macro-level social phenomena. First, there are pre-cognitive, objective social structures that constrain the actions of the agents; second, there are emergent, unaware or (...)
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  25. Bhismadev Chakrabarti & Simon Baron-Cohen (2008). Can the Shared Circuits Model (SCM) Explain Joint Attention or Perception of Discrete Emotions? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 31 (1):24-25.
    The shared circuits model (SCM) is a bold attempt to explain how humans make sense of action, at different levels. In this commentary we single out five concerns: (1) the lack of a developmental account, (2) the absence of double-dissociation evidence, (3) the neglect of joint attention and joint action, (4) the inability to explain discrete emotion perception, and (5) the lack of predictive power or testability of the model. We conclude that Hurley's model requires further work before it could (...)
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  26. Charman (2004). Why is Joint Attention a Pivotal Skill in Autism? In Uta Frith & Elisabeth Hill (eds.), Autism: Mind and Brain. Oup Oxford.
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  27. Tom Cochrane (2009). Joint Attention to Music. British Journal of Aesthetics 49 (1):59-73.
    This paper contrasts individual and collective listening to music, with particular regard to the expressive qualities of music. In the first half of the paper a general model of joint attention is introduced. According to this model, perceiving together modifies the intrinsic structure of the perceptual task, and encourages a convergence of responses to a greater or lesser degree. The model is then applied to music, looking first at the silent listening situation typical to the classical concert hall, and second (...)
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  28. Jeffrey P. Cohn (2005). Joint Ventures: A Different Approach to Conservation. BioScience 55 (10):824.
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  29. Nick Crossley (1996). Intersubjectivity: The Fabric of Social Becoming. Sage Publications.
    Articulate and perceptive, Intersubjectivity is a text that explains the notions of intersubjectivity as a central concern of philosophy, sociology, psychology, and politics. Going beyond this broad-ranging introduction and explication, author Nick Crossley provides a critical discussion of intersubjectivity as an interdisciplinary concept to shed light on our understanding of selfhood, communication, citizenship, power, and community. The volume traces the contributions of key thinkers engaged within the intersubjectivist tradition, including Husserl, Buber, Kojeve, Merlau-Ponty, Mead, Wittgenstein, Schutz, and Habermas. A clear, (...)
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  30. David Danks (2014). Perception, Causation, and Objectivity, Edited by Johannes Roessler, Hemdat Lerman, and Naomi Eilan. Mind 123 (490):635-639.
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  31. Donald Davidson (1996). Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective. In Philosophy. Bristol: Thoemmes. 555-558.
    This is the long-awaited third volume of philosophical writings by Davidson, whose influence on philosophy since the 1960s has been deep and broad. His first two collections, published by Oxford in the early 1980s, are recognized as contemporary classics. His ideas have continued to flow; now, in this new work, he presents a selection of his best work on knowledge, mind, and language from the last two decades. It is a rich and rewarding feast for anyone interested in philosophy, and (...)
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  32. Martin Davies (1987). Relevance and Mutual Knowledge. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 10 (4):716.
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  33. Hanne De Jaegher (2009). Social Understanding Through Direct Perception? Yes, by Interacting. Consciousness & Cognition 18 (2):535-542.
    This paper comments on Gallagher’s recently published direct perception proposal about social cognition [Gallagher, S. (2008a). Direct perception in the intersubjective context. Consciousness and Cognition, 17(2), 535–543]. I show that direct perception is in danger of being appropriated by the very cognitivist accounts criticised by Gallagher (theory theory and simulation theory). Then I argue that the experiential directness of perception in social situations can be understood only in the context of the role of the interaction process in social cognition. I (...)
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  34. Hanne de Jaegher, Ezequiel di Paolo & Shaun Gallagher (2010). Can Social Interaction Constitute Social Cognition? Trends in Cognitive Sciences 14 (10):441-447.
    An important shift is taking place in social cognition research, away from a focus on the individual mind and toward embodied and participatory aspects of social understanding. Empirical results already imply that social cognition is not reducible to the workings of individual cognitive mechanisms. To galvanize this interactive turn, we provide an operational definition of social interaction and distinguish the different explanatory roles – contextual, enabling and constitutive – it can play in social cognition. We show that interactive processes are (...)
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  35. Johan De Smedt & Helen De Cruz (2013). Delighting in Natural Beauty: Joint Attention and the Phenomenology of Nature Aesthetics. European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 5 (4):167-186.
    Empirical research in the psychology of nature appreciation suggests that humans across cultures tend to evaluate nature in positive aesthetic terms, including a sense of beauty and awe. They also frequently engage in joint attention with other persons, whereby they are jointly aware of sharing attention to the same event or object. This paper examines how, from a natural theological perspective, delight in natural beauty can be conceptualized as a way of joining attention to creation. Drawing on an analogy between (...)
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  36. Frans Bm de Waal (2006). Joint Ventures Require Joint Payoffs: Fairness Among Primates. Social Research: An International Quarterly 73 (2):349-364.
    Cooperative animals often find themselves in situations in which they need to monitor and compare pay-offs received from joint ventures. They can compare their pay-offs with a) the history of giving to and receiving from the same partner , b) the effort they put into the venture , or c) what others are getting . There is ample observational evidence that monkeys and apes follow rules of social reciprocity. There is also evidence for market effects of supply and demand . (...)
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  37. Peter F. Dominey (2004). Situation Alignment and Routinization in Language Acquisition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (2):195-195.
    Pickering & Garrod (P&G) describe a mechanism by which the situation models of dialog participants become progressively aligned via priming at different levels. This commentary attempts to characterize how alignment and routinization can be extended into the language acquisition domain by establishing links between alignment and joint attention, and between routinization and grammatical construction learning.
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  38. Eva M. Dundas, David C. Plaut & Marlene Behrmann (2013). The Joint Development of Hemispheric Lateralization for Words and Faces. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 142 (2):348.
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  39. Naomi Eilan (2007). Consciousness, Self-Consciousness and Communication. In Thomas Baldwin (ed.), Reading Merleau-Ponty: On Phenomenology of Perception. Routledge.
  40. Naomi M. Eilan (2005). Joint Attention, Communication, and Mind. In N. Elian, Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack & Johannes Roessler (eds.), Joint Attention: Communication and Other Minds. Oxford University Press. 1.
    This chapter argues that a central division among accounts of joint attention, both in philosophy and developmental psychology, turns on how they address two questions: What, if any, is the connection between the capacity to engage in joint attention triangles and the capacity to grasp the idea of objective truth? How do we explain the kind of openness or sharing of minds that occurs in joint attention? The chapter explores the connections between answers to both questions, and argues that theories (...)
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  41. Naomi Eilan, Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack & Johannes Roessler (eds.) (2005). Joint Attention: Communication and Other Minds: Issues in Philosophy and Psychology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
    Sometime around their first birthday most infants begin to engage in relatively sustained bouts of attending together with their caretakers to objects in their environment. By the age of 18 months, on most accounts, they are engaging in full-blown episodes of joint attention. As developmental psychologists (usually) use the term, for such joint attention to be in play, it is not sufficient that the infant and the adult are in fact attending to the same object, nor that the one’s attention (...)
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  42. Anika Fiebich & Shaun Gallagher (2012). Joint Attention in Joint Action. Philosophical Psychology 26 (4):571-87.
    In this paper, we investigate the role of intention and joint attention in joint actions. Depending on the shared intentions the agents have, we distinguish between joint path-goal actions and joint final-goal actions. We propose an instrumental account of basic joint action analogous to a concept of basic action and argue that intentional joint attention is a basic joint action. Furthermore, we discuss the functional role of intentional joint attention for successful cooperation in complex joint actions. Anika Fiebich is PhD (...)
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  43. Mr Christian Flender, Dr Kirsty Kitto & Prof Peter Bruza, Nonseparability of Shared Intentionality.
    According to recent studies in developmental psychology and neuroscience, symbolic language is essentially intersubjective. Empathetically relating to others renders possible the acquisition of linguistic constructs. Intersubjectivity develops in early ontogenetic life when interactions between mother and infant mutually shape their relatedness. Empirical findings suggest that the shared attention and intention involved in those interactions is sustained as it becomes internalized and embodied. Symbolic language is derivative and emerges from shared intentionality. In this paper, we present a formalization of shared intentionality (...)
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  44. Fabia Franco (2005). Infant Pointing: Harlequin, Servant of Two Masters. In Naomi Eilan, Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack & Johannes Roessler (eds.), Joint Attention: Communication and Other Minds. Issues in Philosophy and Psychology. Oxford University Press.
    Infants initiate joint attentional exchanges by pointing relevant referents out to addressees. Over the second year of life, the functional meaning of the pointing gesture develops from declarative (sharing a referent) to informational (giving some information that is new to the addressee). This chapter analyzes this transition in the development of pointing based on experimental evidence about its production contexts and, in particular, of variables concerning the visibility of referents for infant and addressee. Further evidence is reported concerning the association (...)
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  45. Thomas Fuchs & Hanne de Jaegher (2009). Enactive Intersubjectivity: Participatory Sense-Making and Mutual Incorporation. [REVIEW] Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 8 (4):465-486.
    Current theories of social cognition are mainly based on a representationalist view. Moreover, they focus on a rather sophisticated and limited aspect of understanding others, i.e. on how we predict and explain others’ behaviours through representing their mental states. Research into the ‘social brain’ has also favoured a third-person paradigm of social cognition as a passive observation of others’ behaviour, attributing it to an inferential, simulative or projective process in the individual brain. In this paper, we present a concept of (...)
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  46. Riccardo Fusaroli, Bahador Bahrami, Karsten Olsen, Andreas Roepstorff, Geraint Rees, Chris Frith & Kristian Tylén (2012). Coming to Terms: Quantifying the Benefits of Linguistic Coordination. Psychological Science 23 (8):931-939.
    Sharing a public language facilitates particularly efficient forms of joint perception and action by giving interlocutors refined tools for directing attention and aligning conceptual models and action. We hypothesized that interlocutors who flexibly align their linguistic practices and converge on a shared language will improve their cooperative performance on joint tasks. To test this prediction, we employed a novel experimental design, in which pairs of participants cooperated linguistically to solve a perceptual task. We found that dyad members generally showed a (...)
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  47. Shaun Gallagher (2008). Intersubjectivity in Perception. Continental Philosophy Review 41 (2):163-178.
    The embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended approaches to cognition explicate many important details for a phenomenology of perception, and are consistent with some of the traditional phenomenological analyses. Theorists working in these areas, however, often fail to provide an account of how intersubjectivity might relate to perception. This paper suggests some ways in which intersubjectivity is important for an adequate account of perception.
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  48. Mattia Gallotti (2012). A Naturalistic Argument for the Irreducibility of Collective Intentionality. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 42 (1):3-30.
    According to many philosophers and scientists, human sociality is explained by our unique capacity to “share” attitudes with others. The conditions under which mental states are shared have been widely debated in the past two decades, focusing especially on the issue of their reducibility to individual intentionality and the place of collective intentions in the natural realm. It is not clear, however, to what extent these two issues are related and what methodologies of investigation are appropriate in each case. In (...)
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  49. Juan Carlos Gomez (2005). Joint Attention and the Notion of Subject: Insights From Apes, Normal Children, and Children with Autism. In N. Elian, Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack & Johannes Roessler (eds.), Joint Attention: Communication and Other Minds. Oxford University Press.
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  50. Juan-Carlos Gomez (2011). The Ontogeny of Triadic Cooperative Interactions with Humans in an Infant Gorilla. Interaction Studies 11 (3):353-379.
    This paper reports a longitudinal study on the ontogeny of triadic cooperative interactions (involving coordinations of objects and people) in a hand-reared lowland gorilla ( Gorilla gorilla gorilla ) from 6 months to 36 months of age. Using the behavioural categories developed by Hubley and Trevarthen (1979) to characterize the origins of “secondary intersubjectivity” in human babies between 8-12 months of age, I chart the emergence of comparable coordinations of gestures and actions with objects and acts of dyadic communication. The (...)
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