Seminar Series

Multi-level alignment between self and others

This presentation will review our recent research on implicit and deliberate alignment between conspecifics. Our report of “embodied body-gestalt” completion emphasised the importance of body posture alignment when perceiving and imitating conspecifics. While this type of alignment is rather implicit and automatic, it could impact on high level social cognition as suggested by effects of implicit mimickry in social psychology. Together with observations from developmental and comparative psychology, this led us to hypothesise that deliberate alignment in form of perspective taking, which has been proposed as a uniquely human capacity, might still be grounded within representations of the body. Indeed, we repeatedly observed posture congruence effects on high-level perspective taking (PT), suggesting mental simulation of a body rotation as the underlying mechanism. MEG data analysis so far revealed oscillatory signatures for manipulations of posture and cognitive effort of PT that seem to converge in brain areas around the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), suggesting it as the locus where the observer’s embodied mind is aligned with another’s. This is further corroborated in a final paradigm, where we observed perspective taking (or mentalizing) during live interactive communication in the MEG. We used a “broken precedent” task to understand the processes engaged by a listener, when a speaker breaks a previously established convention for naming an object. We observed mentalizing/perspective taking in TPJ areas that were co-activated and coupled with areas related to language, perception, and episodic (working) memory. Overall the presentation aims at providing a cross-section through the multiple levels on which humans implicitly or deliberately align themselves with others during social interaction.