Bodily intentionality and social affordances in context

In Fabio Paglieri (ed.), Consciousness in Interaction. !e role of the natural and social context in shaping consciousness. John Benjamins (2012)
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There are important structural similarities in the way that animals and humans engage in unreflective activities, including unreflective social interactions in the case of higher animals. Firstly, it is a form of unreflective embodied intelligence that is ‘motivated’ by the situation. Secondly, both humans and non-human animals are responsive to ‘affordances’ (Gibson 1979); to possibilities for action offered by an environment. Thirdly, both humans and animals are selectively responsive to one affordance rather than another. Social affordances are a subcategory of affordances, namely possibilities for social interaction offered by an environment: a friend’s sad face invites comforting behavior, a person waiting for a coffee machine can afford a conversation, and an extended hand affords a handshake. I will review recent insights in the nature of the bodily intentionality characteristic of unreflective action. Such ‘motor intentionality’ can be characterized as “our direct bodily inclination to act in a situated, environmental context” (Kelly 2005, p. 106). Standard interpretations of bodily intentionality see grasping an object as the paradigmatic example of motor intentionality. I will discuss the implications of another, novel perspective that emphasizes the importance of unreflective switches from one activity to another (Rietveld 2004) and understands bodily intentionality in terms of adequate responsiveness to a field of relevant affordances. In the final section I will discuss some implications for cognitive neuroscientists who use empirical findings related to the ‘mirror neuron system’ as a starting point for a theory of motor intentionality and social cognition.

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Erik Rietveld
University of Amsterdam


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