Are infants altercentric? The Other and the Self in early social cognition.
Much research in recent years has revealed that humans have a striking tendency for our behavior to be influenced by other-centered representations. In this talk, I will suggest that this ‘altercentric’ stance has its origins early in development, and is the default state for human infants. I will suggest that early altercentrism can explain infants’ tendency towards spontaneous perspective taking, even in situations where adults do not spontaneously adopt the others’ perspective, and will present some data to support this claim. Furthermore, I will suggest that altercentrism is characterized by an absence of self-other distinction and that altercentrism gradually gives way to a more self-centered cognition, as infants acquire a self-awareness and a self-other distinction. As part of my talk, I will present some recent neuroimaging work in which we have begun exploring the development of self-awareness, with a view to testing our hypothesis that the emergence of self-awareness, and a transition to egocentrism leads children to begin making errors in their perspective taking, most notably reflected in 3-year-olds’ failure on false belief tasks. I will also present a model of how I think this hypothesis might play out at the brain level, and some predictions that are best tested with a neuroimaging approach.