[CATEGORY IN INDEX AT STEIN-BRATEN.NET: OPENING LECTURES]
Invited keynote lecture at the conference by the world organization on preschool education international OMEP (Organization Mondial pour l'Education Prescolaire) devoted to the topic of findings about children from birth to about three years of age, Tromsø, August 9.-11 2006.
From infant mirroring and learning by other-centred participation
Theory Forum Network on the Foundations of (Pre)Verbal Intersubjectivity
Dept of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo
Abstract. As the very opposite of the Piagetian attribution of egocentricity and an asocial point of departure of child development is empirically demonstrated how infants engage in intersubjective attunement with carepersons soon after birth, and how such primary intersubjectivity comes to support higher-order achievements, including a highly effecient mode of participant learning as if being a virtual co-author of what the model or teacher is doing or saying. Herein is examined, then, how the specific mode of infant learning by other-centred participation, supported by mirror neurons system adapted in hominin phylogeny to subserve mother-centred participation has emerged and given rise to toddlers' empathic identifcation and affordance of protocare to patients in need. But why, then, are not prosocial and altruistic behaviours more prevalent in socialized individuals? That is the final question turned to -- again with implications contrasted with implications of the Piagetian paradigm.
I thank the OMEP organizing committee for the invitation to give the first lecture, and for complying with my proposal to invite Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl who with their seminal book, The Scientist in the Crib, will strike a keynote for this conference.
Here is a video record of how early newborn can begin to investigate your face if allowed to. Recorded at a maternity hospital in Crete in 1983, Giannis Kugiumutzakis invites facial gestural imitation of newborns, some of them 20 to 30 minutes old. As you can see, the gaze of some of these newborns appears to be very intense as they scrutinize the face that makes the gesture, before trying to and somtimes succeeding in coming up with a semblant gesture, such as tongue portrusion or wide mouth opening (of the same kind that Meltzoff and Moore (1977) reported in their Science paper)..
[Three minutes cut of the beginning of a video record of newborn imitation]
When a lecture audience sees this video, when for example the little girl, 20 minutes old, after having been exposed to the experimenter's wide mouth opening, is preparing herself to attempt to do the same, there will be people in the audience who open their own mouth -- as if virtually trying to come to her aid.
[Photo of an audience in which some view the video with their mouth open]
Upon my returning to the speaker's platform and pointing this out, laugther breaks out. If they had been aware of what they unwittingly were doing, they would have closed their mouth. What they did there, illustrate the keynote of this lecture: participant perception as if being a virtual co-author in helping the baby coming up with the imitating gesture. .
In contrast to Piagetian theories: Layers of intersubjective attunement
Such neonatal imitation does not at all fit with Piaget's theory of child development. He even had trouble with deferred imitation in a 17-month-olds which he had observed:
"At 1;4(3) J. had a visit from a little boy of 1,6 whom she used to see from time to time, and who, in the course of the afternoon got into a terrible temper. He screamed as he tried to get out of the play-pen and pushed it backwards, stamping his feet. J. stood watching him in amazement, never having witness such a scene before. The next day, she herself screamed in the play-pen and tried to move it, stamping her foot lightly several times in succession." (Piaget 1946/1962:63).
Piaget wonders if some sort of representative or pre-representative element may have been at play here. In terms of other-centred participation this explanation may now be offered: Watching the boy, the girl unwittingly engage in a virtual participation in the boy's movements as if she were a virtual co-author of his trying get out operating from his centre. Her sharing what Stern (2000) terms the vitality affects contours of his stamping and screaming, as if she had been doing the screaming, pushing and stamping with him, leaves her with an e-motional memory (or what Foger 2004) would have termed a 'participatory memory', inviting her circular re-enactment on the next day.(cf. Bråten 1998b:110).
This is circular re-enactment from her altercentric participation in the boy's effort on the preceding day, the very reverse of egocentricity posited by Piaget (1959) as a point of departure for child development of thought and language.
New findings in terms of three different layers of intersubjective attunement
In contrast to the Piagetian attribution of an egocentric point of departure for children's development of language, requiring decentration as the child matures, we believe we have now found evidence of infant capacity for altercentric mirroring and self-with-other resonance soon after birth (Braten 1998; Braten & Trevarthen 2004; Stern 2000, 2004ab; Trevarthen 1998; Trevarthen et al. 1998).
Thus, in the last decades some of the story of human infancy has been re-written, as it were, replacing earlier theoretical views of infants as a-social and ego-centric with a new understanding of infant capacity for interpersonal communion from the outset. Today, arising from the foundations of infant intersubjectivity which Trevarthen was the first to define in the 1970's, and based on empirical findings during the last three decade, we are able to distinguish different layers of intersubjective attunement in early human development. In Table 1 is a succinct list of some of these findings (End note 1), made by contributors to a source volume on Intersubjective Communication and Emotion in Early Ontogeny (Braten (ed.) 1998) (End note 1). As shown in the table, the various findings may be allocated to these three layers of intersubjective attunement, conforming to the multi-layered logic of the senses of self, distinguished by Stern (2000), in which each lower-order layer continues to be operative throughout life, supportive higher-order layers.
Table 1 Succinct list of some findings (right column), made by contributors to a source volume on Intersubjective Communication and Emotion in Early Ontogeny (Braten (ed.) 1998), allocated to the three layers of intersubjectivity (left) defined in that volume, and including here some of the defined senses of self, deliminated in Stern's (2000) introduction to the paper back edition of The Interpersonal World of the Infant.
(I) Primary intersubjective attunement in a reciprocal subject-subject format of protoconversation (Trevarthen 1979) and interpersonal communion, entailing a sense of self-resonating-with-another (Stern 2000), exhibited in the first weeks and months of life announces the kind of mutual mirroring and turn-taking which we find also in mature verbal conversation, for instance, how an 11 days old at the nursing table can engage in a dance-like interplay with the attending mother (Bråten 1998b) and by 6 weeks infants can fully engage in reciprocal protoconversation (Murray 1998, Trevarthen 1998);
(II) Secondary intersubjective attunement in a triangular subject subject object format (Trevarthen & Hubley 1978) involving shared attention and altercentric participation (Bråten 1998b) in the object oriented movements of one another. For instance, 11-month-olds can show care and reciprocate caregiver's spoonfeeding. Like social referencing, such object-oriented cultural learning opens for semantic learning, entailing a sense of verbal self (Stern 2000), and is precursory of mental simulation to come. For instance, 18-month-olds appear able to "read the intention" of others failing to perform an intended act, such as the experimenter's failing to pull a dumbbell apart (Meltzoff & Moore 1998), entailing a capacity for simulating the experimenter's attempted act as basis for realizing it.
(III) Tertiary intersubjective understanding (Bråten & Trevarthen 1994/2000) in conversational and narrative speech, entailing predication (from about 18 - 24 months), and from about 3 to 6 years of age, second-order understanding of others' minds and emotion. For instance, they will be able to understand others' (mis)understanding by virtue of mental simulation of mind (Harris 1991), precursory of the ability to complete the conversation partner 's statement by virtue of other-centred simulation of the partner's mind (Bråten 1974; 2002).
Some objections: -- But not everyone join us in such a radical attribution. Some authors, following Tomasello (1999, pp. 302-304), prefer to reserve the term 'intersubjectivity' for the second domain (II) in which infants, around 9 months, recognize others as subjects of experience and intentional agents. Thus, Fonagy, Gergely, Jurist and Target (2002, p.210) take exception to the nativism implied by what they call 'the "strong intersubjectivist" position' represented by Bråten (1988, 1992), Stern (1995), and Trevarthen (1979, 1993). All three of us insist on the critical intertwined interplay between nature and cultural and interactional nurture throughout ontogeny and from the outset. The melody of the ambient language may begin to make itself felt even before birth. And when Kuhl (1998), for example, demonstrates how speech perception in early infancy changes speech perception, accounting for the acquisition of a life-long dialect, she also asserts that there is an innate link between perception and action. When Tomasello et al. (1993) take exception to 'nativism' and regard the capacity for cultural learning to the be the unique characteristic of human, this implies a strong statement about innateness, namely the inborn capacity for cultural learning, and which necessarily depends -- like all the other intersubjective characteristics -- on cultural and interactional nurture to come into play.
Re the tertiary layer of intersubjectivity. -- The age of about 24 months entails the beginning of conversational and narrative speech, and the emergence of a sense of verbal or narrative self and other in first-order modes of symbolic communication entailing mental understanding of self´s and other´s activities in virtue of mental co enactment of activity intended or pretended. We see the beginnings of symbolic conversation, and self-recognition in mirrors, the use of personal pronouns "I", "my", "mine". There occurs spoken predication of object characteristics ("[car] -- broken"); joint pretense ("me -- Daddy") ([banana] -- "mobile") (cf. Akhtar & Tomasello 1998). From about 3 to 6 years of age, then, is manifested meta-understanding of other's understanding entailing second order mental understanding of thoughts and emotions in self and other in virtue of recursive mental simulation of mental processes in others beginning with discovery of deceit and attribution of false beliefs, and with co narrative fictional constructions with peers, and enabling the child listening to a story to take the point-of-view of the main character.
For example, in an Oxford study, Rall & Harris (2000) find that when 3- and 4-year-olds are asked to retell fairytales, say about Cinderella, they manage best when the verbs in the stories listened to are consistent with the stance of the protagonist with whom they identify, inviting their altercentric participation in 'Cinderella's slippers', as it were. The children have trouble when the verbs in the stories told are used from the reverse perspective, at odds with their perspective-taking. On the basis of experimental story recall studies, including their own studies at Oxford of 3- and 4-year-old children's recall of 'Cinderella' and 'Little Red Riding Hood', Jamie Rall and Paul Harris make this suggestion. Finding that recall is more accurate for verbs, such as 'come' and 'bring', 'go' and 'take', if used spatially consistent with the point-of-view of the main protagonist, they state:
"[it] would be plausible to conclude that listeners engage in what we might call 'altercentric participation' (Braten, 1998). This would allow us to make sense of the fact that listeners not only encode movements and location in relation to the protagonist, they also anticipate the emotional implications of impending events " (Rall & Harris 2000, p. 207).
This pertains to the qualitative leap to children's simulation or theory of mind, correlating with their verbal and conversational ability and entailing second-order understanding of others' thoughts and emotions. It seems reasonable to assume that a mirror system for matching or simulating others' acts may afford a precursory and nurturing path to simulation of other minds (cf. Braten, 1998ab, Gallese & Goldman, 1998; Bråten & Gallese 2004), and that such preverbal capacity for virtual participation in what others are doing are likely to support the kind of inner feedback loops defined by Braten's (1974) conversational simulation of mind model, illustrating how dialogue partners simulating one another's verbal production and understanding.
Thus, a major point here is that such higher-order achievements continue to be supported by capacities and competencies unfolding in the low-order steps, and which continue to be operational and supportive throughout life.
Re: Sense of self. -- At the domain of tertiary intersubjectivety, supported by the lower order domains, children have developed a sense of narrative self (or narrative selves and others) as specified by Daniel Stern (2000:xxv) in a new introduction to the paperback edition of his seminal 1985-book on 'The interpersonal world of the infant' in which he revised his multi-layered model of senses of selves (and others), beginning with a sense of an emergent self, and with each layer supportive of higher-order layers and continuing throughout life: .
From birth: Sense of an emergent self, underlying the sense of a core self, entailing coherence, continuity, and agency, and the sense of core self-with-another, entailing self-resonating with another in the self-in-presence-of-another domain of primary intersubjectivity
From 9 months: Sense of an intersubjective self in the domain of secondary intersubjectivity, entailing affect attunement and joint attention when objects are brought into play
From 18 months: Verbal self-formation announcing the reflective self-other relations opened for by symbols and language
From about 3 years: Narrative self and selves, entailing self-biographical stories co-constructed with others, as part of the official family history and a part of family lore, co-inciding with the beginning of 2nd order tertiary intersubjectivity entailing a capacity for theory or simulation of other minds.
While having previously taken exception to Trevarthen (1979) attribution of primary intersubjectivity to early infancy, Stern (2000:xx), in his new introduction to the paperback edition, declares a shift in his position in light of recent evidence that "suggest that, probably from the beginning of life, infants have the capacity for what Braten (1998) terms altero-centric participation" and referring also to its neurosocial support:
"In light of new evidence of other-centered participation shown by infants in their many forms of imitation, as well as the new findings on mirror neurons and adaptive oscillators, I am now convinced that early forms of intersubjectivity exist almost from the beginning of life." (Stern 2000, p. xxii).
I shall now show you some of the evidence in the format of photo shapshots, and drawings based on video and photo recordings of processes pertaining to the first and second layer of intersubjectivity, and then turn to three year olds who have begun to exhibit patterns conforming to the tertiary layer.
When infants feed or reciprocate spoonfeeding
Let me now show you instances of pro-sociality or proto-care exhibited by infants from various cultures, who before the first year's birthday feed or spoon-feed their companion.
[Photo snapshots of infants from different cultures feeding another]
Here, for example, is a Norwegian boy, 11 3/4 months, reciprocating his big sister's spoonfeeding (Braten 1996), an Amazonas girl of about the same age offering a morsel to her big sister (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1979) and then, here you see a boy, almost a year older, who feeds a cake to his girl companion in an Italian daycare centre (Carolyn Pope Edwards brought this snapshot back from Italy when returning to to my research group in the Centre for Advanced Study (CAS) in Oslo 1996-97). They all afford instances of early pro-sociality and proto-care. But what else do you see in these pictures? Look closely..
Moving with the mouth movement of the other being fed
Regard the mouth of the infant feeders; notice how they are opening their own mouth as their companions open the mouth to receive the food offered, and notice how the Yanomami girl tightens her lips as her big sister's mouth closes on the morsel. What you see revealed here, like what you yourself may unwittingly exhibit when feeding a child or a patient, is taking a virtual part in the patient's intake of the food, as if participating in the other's eating from the other's stance, or virtually helping the other to grasp by mouth the food offered.
What has been described and exemplified by what I have shown you are are instances of what I have identified and termed 'altercentric participation' (Braten 1997, 1998). Such spontaneous and unwittingly evoked co-movements tells us that the feeder or the spectator participates in the other's (expected) performances from the other's centre, the centre of Alter (hence the term Alter-centric) and -- for the feeder -- concurrently with his or her execution of the feeding act.
Definition of other-centred participation in terms the words 'Ego' and 'Alter'
If we use the terms "Ego" and "Alter", then alter-centric participation may be defined as Ego's other-centred participation in Alter's act or state as if Ego were a virtual co-author or co-executor of Alter's act from the centre of Alter (cf. Bråten 1999: 247, 273). Such a participation on the part of Ego in what Alter is about to do becomes alter-centric when Ego, as it were, enters the centre of Alter's bodily stance, and from there virtually and unwittingly attempts to assist Alter in completing his act.
As the very reverse of perception of facing other subjects from an ego-centric perspective, other-centered participation entails the empathic capacity to identify with the other in a virtual participant manner that evokes co-enactment or shared experience as if being in the other's bodily centre. I define
Altercentric participation: ego's virtual participation in Alter's act as if ego were a co-author of the act or being hand-guided from Alter's stance. This is sometimes unwittingly manifested overtly, for example, when lifting one's leg when watching a high jumper, or when opening one's own mouth when putting a morsel into another's mouth (and differs from perspective-taking mediated by conceptual representations of others) (Braten, 1996; 2000:297-298).
An even better definition has been provided by Daniel Stern in the glossary to his latest book on "The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life':
Altero-centered participation (Braten 1998b) is the innate capacity to experience, usually out awareness, what another is experiencing [...] as if your center of orientation and perspective were centered in the other. It is not a form of knowledge about the other, but rather a participation in the other's experience. It is the basic intersubjective capacity that makes imitation, empathy, sympathy, emotional contagion, and identification possible. Allthough innate, the capacity enlarges and becomes refined with development" (Stern 2004:241-242).
And what is more, it helps to explain the efficient cultural learning capacity shown by children even in the first year of their life
Circular re-enactment of caregiving from e-motional memory
Let us return to the record of the Oslo-boy Thomas (11 3/4 months) who reciprocates his sister's spoon-feeding. In doing so, he demonstrates his impressive learning capacity. From previously being spoon-fed by his caregivers, he has learnt to (take delight) in spoon-feeding others in return, and to do so before his first birthday. Such an impressive early feat of cultural learning now permits specifications in terms of other-centred participation:
(i) Caregiving situations, which may appear to be unilateral activities, should be re-defined to be seen at the reciprocal activities entailed in virtue of the infant's taking a virtual part in what the caregiver does, and thereby learns from alter-centric participation in that very caregiving.
I shall now take a step further and offer an account of how the altercentric capacity invites in the child as a subject of care or abuse a mode of imitative learning which creates virtuous and vicious circles of re-enactment. But first some definitions of pertinent terms are needed:
Vitality Contour: term introduced by Daniel Stern for the temporal contour of feeling flow patterns with a characteristic intensity time-course of vitality affects reflecting the manner in which an activity has been enacted and the feeling that directs the enactment.
Learning by altercentric participation: imitational learning by Ego's virtual participation in Alter's act in felt immediacy which
(1) evokes sensori-motor engagement in Alter's movements in a participatory sense involving virtual co-enactment of Alter's movements as if Ego were hand-guided and a co-author of Alter's act,
(2) giving rise to shared temporal vitality (affects) contours, reflecting the manner in which the enactment is felt to be virtually co-enacted and the feeling that directs the co-enactment,
(3) enabling circular re-enactment from e-motional memory of such virtual co-enactments,
(4) which in face-to-face situation entails mirror reversal of Alter's enactment -- from being other-centred perceived to being self-centred executed as circular re-enactment (End note 2 on difficulties in autism)..
Such learning entail a kind of procedural memory or, as I would specify it, an e-motional memory. By "e-motional memory" I mean here the affective remembrance -- which is not conceptual and may not be conscious -- of virtually moving with Alter's movements leaving Ego with a characteristic vitality contour and procedural memory of the virtual co-enactment which may be evoked for re-enactment in similar situations. The composite term "e-motional" combines the folk sense of being 'moved by' and the root sense 'out-of-motion'. We may also, in line with Fogel (2004) use the term participative memory.
In an environment affording care, the infant gets recurrent opportunities to not just be subjected to care but to feel to be virtually co-enacting such caregiving, inviting circular re-enactment from e-motional memory of such caregiving. Others in need or distress may invite caring efforts resembling the caring afforded by others earlier in infancy from e-motional participatory memory of having virtually participated in that caregiving.
(ii) The kind of caretaking frequently experienced by the infant in virtue of alter-centric participation provides a basis for circular re-enactment of that kind of caretaking towards other children in need or distress.
This fits with studies revealing how the quality of the caregiving background appears to play a role in children's reaction towards others in need: Those from a nurturant and caring background are most likely to help and offer comfort to other children in need or distress (Berk 1994; Zahn-Waxler et al. 1979). Thus, other-centred participation is at play in a twofold way here: first, by the part it plays in learning from caregivers who have left the child with an e-motional or participatory memory of caregiving; second, by the way in which altercentric participation may be elicited by others in need or distress, and thereby activating circular re-enactment of caregiving offered to them.
Child abuse inviting circular re-enactment of abuse
But caretaking experiences need of course not only be experiences of caring, comfort and holding (in Winnicott's sense). Parents, caretakers and others may be guilty of various forms of abuse. And if the above applies, then we should also expect that experiences of abuse and rejection in caretaking may come to invite vicious circles of re-enactment. That is implied by proposition (ii). Observing abused toddlers abusing other infants, George and Main (1985) indicate a vicious circle in the early impact of the quality of the caretaking background. Severely abused toddlers have been observed at a day-care centre to react fearfully or aggressive towards other children in distress, and by the second year of their life to re-enact the abusive behaviour of their parents.
And then, compared to a normal population distribution, amongst adult abusers there is an over-representations of childhood victims of abuse. This cannot be accounted for in terms of traditional theories of learning. Here, an explanation may be offered: In the way that sensitive caregiving invites circular re-enactment then we should also expect that experiences of abuse may come to invite circles of re-enactment:
(iii) Circular re-enactment of abuse somehow entails that the child victim has been compelled not just to suffer the victim part, but to feel to participate in the abusive movements, sharing the vitality contours reflecting the manner of abuse and the feelings that direct the abuse. In virtue of such other-centred participation the victim may come to experience engagement in the bodily motions and feelings of the abuser, not just own suffering. That leaves the victim with a compelling bodily and emotional remembrance that increases the likelihood of circular re-enactment of abuse in peer relations or towards younger children later in ontogeny from e-motional memory of having virtually participated in actual alter's abuse, while suffered by the victim's bodily ego.
In constrast, classical theories of learning can only be used to account for how to learn to become and remain a victim from being abused. In his article in Forum der Psychoanalyse, Dornes (2002:303-331) points to links between the above account of circular re-enactment of abuse and the psychoanalytic notions of 'identification with the aggressor" and "identification with the introject". He stresses, however, that my account implies a sort of "identification" at a subsymbolic and body-near level entailing no symbolic representations:
"[Braten's] theory follows the intuition of Freud (1920) that compulsive repetition ("Wiederholungszwang") is a biologically founded phenomenon, albeit here not anchored in the death instinct, but in a form of resonance theory" (Dornes 2002:319n).
Thus, this means virtual participation in a more narrow sense, participation in the sense of felt immediacy in the abuser's movements as if being a co-author, and leaving the victim with a bodily, not conceptual, remembrance that call upon circular re-enactment. And, as Dornes makes clear, I account for the re-enactment of abuse in terms of the very same life-giving mechanism operating in children's proto-care and in their re-enacting the caregiving they have experienced.
Neurophysiological support of other-centred mirroring
When verbal conversation partners show by the overt behavior that they simulate one another's complementary processes, by virtue of altercentric participation in the partner's executed speech act and understanding, they parallel to a certain extent lower-order processes already exhibited earlier in ontogeny, for example by infants' altercentric participation in their caregivers' enactment as if they had been hand-guided from the caregivers' stance and were a co-author of the caregiving. When the listener's completes the talker's speech act and when the feeder's mouth movements match the recipient's mouth movements, their virtual participation is overtly manifested. The neurophysiological support of such feats has now probably been discovered.
The discovery of mirror neurons and possible evolutionary path
The discovery of 'mirror neurons' and the electrophysiological experimental evidences of a mirror system in the human brain inform about the kind of neurophysiological system, a virtual mirror system, that is the likely support such processes. The mirror neurons, first found in macaque monkeys to discharge both when another is observed grasping a piece of food and when the monkey is preparing for grasping the piece by itself subserve a system that appear to match the act perceived done by another individual with a semblant, internally generated enactment in the perceiver (cf. Di Pellegrino et al. (1992) and contributions by G. Rizzolatti, L. Fadiga, and others in Stamenov & Gallese (eds. 2002)). Further experimental evidence suggest that such a system exists also in humans, in the brain region that contains Broca's area (which not only serves speech, but appears to come active during execution and imagery of hand movement and tasks involving hand-mental rotation). Identifying such a mirror neurons system enabling observed enactment to be matched to semblant, internally generated enactment in the observer of that enactment, Rizzolatti and Arbib (1998) refer to a Liberman's (1993) motor theory of speech perception implying a close link between the production and perception of speech, This is consistent with what is portrayed in Braten's conversation model of how the listener takes a part in the speaker's production process, and which would presuppose the operational subservience of such a mirror system.
Already in 1998, Rizzolatti and Arbib in their Trends in Neuroscience article on Language within our grasp, indicate the location of mirror neurons in the chimpanzze brain and of a mirror neurons system in the prefrontal cortex of the human brain. They suggested that such a system not just subserves action understanding, but may have played a role in the phylogeny of language, supporting intention understanding in the first primitive dialogues. This we have followed up two years later in a conference on mirror neurons and the evolution of brain and language, organized by Maxim Stamenov and one of Rizzolatti's co-discoverers, Vittorio Gallese (cf. Stamenov & Gallese 2002).
Here, and in a commentary to the anthropologist Dean Falk's (2004) article on Prelinguistic evolution in early hominins, I have proposed that the efficient speech perception that may be observed in early ontogeny may have been subserved by a phylogenetically afforded and adapted resonant mirror system, decentred in phylogeny to subserve (m)other-centred participation by hominin infants. Such an evolved decentred capacity for learning by altercentric perception to cope and take care would have overcome and compensated (at least before the (Homo Erectus ?) invention of baby slings) for the loss of the instructive and protective advantage enjoyed by back-clinging offsprings of other primates (Braten 2002:289-290; 2004:508-509).
In her Behavioral and Brain Science article, 'Prelinguistic evolution in early hominins: Whence motherese?', Dean Falk (2004) emphasizes the premises that hominin mothers that attended vigilantly to their offsprings would have been strongly selected for and would have had potentials for using and modifying vocalization and gestures for the control of infants let down on the ground and unable to cling to the bodies of their mothers. Thereby, as the mothers increasingly resorted to gestural and prosodic markings, the meanings of certain their markings and utterances could have become conventionalized. Thus, Falk addresses the potential contributions by the hominin mothers in the prelinguistic evolution, while I have addressed the contributions by the offsprings, and both of us emphasize the premise of infants unable to cling to the mothers' bodies, and which may have necessitated new modes of communication. In my commentary I advance the 'Hominion infant decentration hypothesis: Mirror neurons system adapted to subserve mother-centered participation' (Bråten 2002, 2002, 2004), which is acknowledged by Falk:
"Braten's hominin infant decentration hypothesis is particularly significant because it specifies how mirror neurons could have been of major importance during the period of evolution when hominin infants lost the ability to ride clinging to their mothers' backs and, thus, [allowing them..] to automatically share perceptions from (litterally) her point of view." (Falk 2004: 532).
i.e. without having to transcend own (egocentric) stance. Thus, unlike Piaget's attribution of decentration to the course of child development, we may now rather attribute decentration to hominin infants in evolution (cf. Table 2).
In contrast to the Piagetian paradigm: Other-centred participation invites altruism
As the very reverse of perception of facing subjects from an ego-centric perspective, other-centered participation entails the empathic capacity to identify with the other in a virtual participant manner that evokes co-enactment or shared experience as if being in the other's bodily centre. You can understand how this may invite in children a general proclivity towards prosocial and even altruistic behaviour. Here is the proposition:
(iv) By virtue of the innate capacity for other-centered participation in the patient's distress or felt need as if experiencing that from the patient's center, there is a natural proclivity in the child to feel concern and sometimes attempt to help the patient, perhaps even at own expence, if situational and motoric resources permit.
If helping occurs at own expence, then this would per definition entail altruism. Does this apply to the previous examples of infants feeding other? Not quite, and only if those infants would have preferred to reserve the food afforded for themselves. In the case of the Norwegian boy, that certainly did not apply. True, he reciprocated his sister's spoonfeeding, but only until the sweet desert; that he kept to himself; no more sharing then.
Table 2 In contrast to the Piagetian paradigm
When orphan victims, 3 years old, exibit altruism
Anna Freud and Sophie Dann (1951).report of six German-Jewish orphans, three boy victims and three girl victims, rescued in 1945 from the the concentration camp in Terezin, where three of them had been since they were about 6 months, and the others since they were 12 months old or younger. Their parents were deported and killed soon after their birth, and they arrived in the concentration camp when they were 6 months old and some approachiing 12 months. Not yet four years old, they arrived on October 1945, via a Czech Castle where they given special care and lavishly fed, in Bulldogs Bank in UK.
As could have been expected, upon arrival in Bulldogs Bank the children were extremely hostile towards the adults and the environment afforded them. In relation to one another, however, the orphans showed themselves to be extremely considerate of one another's feelings, showed concern for one another and affording care, often at own expence.
Perhaps most impressive was they way they behaved towards one another at mealtimes: handing food to the companion was more important than having food oneself (p.174). Here is a telling examples, occurring respectively one month after their arrival at Bulldogs Bank: :
"John [3 years 11 months] cries when there is no cake left for a second helping for him. Ruth [3 years 7 months] and Miriam [3 years 3 months] offer him what is left of their portions. While John eats their pieces of cake, they pet him and comment contently on what they have given him." (Freud (with Dann) 1973:175)
The two girls act in an altruistic manner, giving John their piece of cake at their own expence. Their content and commenting behaviour suggests their taking delight in his eating. Their empathic identification is indicative of othercentered participation which probably underlies and gives rise their altruistic act.
Thus, altercentricity, supported by mirror neurons system adapted in hominin phylogeny to subserve mother-centred participation, and giving rise to empathic identifcation and affordance of protocare to patients in need, even if partly at own expence. But why, then, are not prosocial and altruistic behaviours more prevalent?
in socialized individuals?
Reporting from cross-cultural studies of dominent and egoistic and prosocial behaviours in children (most between 1 to 10 years) in twelve different communities on four different continents, Whiting and Edwards (1988) report empathy and prosocial behaviours in toddlers, while found to decline with age in three of the cultures -- two in India and one in North America -- presumably as a function of parental influence from mothers working at home.
While affordance of caregiving invites in the infant circular re-enactment by virtue of learning by other-centred participation, as does neglect and, even, abuse (Bråten 1998; Dornes 2002) we may also expect that cultural learning of egoistic dominant modes and epistemo-centric socialization modify or even passivate the child's natural tendency to feel concern for others by redefining others as objects or strangers to be feared and excluded from a we-centred intersubjective space. Such a situational definition afforded by cultural learning arrest or abort what otherwise might have been elicited as empathic identification with another in need.
When young children's tendency to activate their innate capacity for altercentric participation sometimes is arrested as a product of epistemo-centric cultural learning about outsiders as objects to be avoided we have the very reverse of the kind of decentration that Piaget attributed to child develpment as the child grows older and coming to recognize others as subjects inviting the intersubjective mode of perspective-taking (cf. Table 2). Such other-centred participation that is usually unwittingly manifested does not only invite altruism, but constitutes a key mechanism for efficient learning from the crib to the classroom.
1. We convened less than two years ago in a Theory Forum symposium on new pertinent findings, including the discovery of mirror neurons, in the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (3-5 October 2004), opened by a keynote lecture by Daniel Stern and a prologue in the form of a dialogue between Colwyn Trevarthen and myself. Here we followed up another symposium in the Academy ten years previously, resulting in our collective volume on Intersubjective Communication and Emotion in Early Ontogeny which I edited for Cambridge University Press (1998). That volume, in addition to a forthcomig volume which I prepare for John Benjamins with working the title On Being Moved -- from Mirror Neurons to Empathy, including contributions by all the above mentioned, including mirror neurons researchers, are the two most imost important collective reference works for the present lecture.
2. While ordinary children in virtue of altercentric perception can do what the other is doing when seen face-to-face, children with autism who understand and comply with the invitation 'Do as I do' have problems. For example, when the model is raising his arms, the subject with autism may compare the inside of the model's hands with own hands and, then, raise his own hands with the palms inwards (cf. Fig. 5.4 in Braten's chapter and the chapter by Whiten & Brown in Braten (ed.) 1998:260-282).
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