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A clinical perspective on ‘theory of mind’, empathy and altruism: the hypothesis of somasia

Jean-Michel Le Bot

Abstract


The article starts by recalling the results of recent experiments that have revealed that, to a certain extent, the “ability to simultaneously distinguish between different possible perspectives on the same situation” (Decety and Lamm 2007) exists in chimpanzees. It then describes a case study of spatial and temporal disorientation in a young man following a cerebral lesion in order to introduce the hypothesis that this ability is based on a specific process of somasia. By permitting self-other awareness, this process also provides subjects with anchor points in time and space from which they can perform the mental decentring that enables them to adopt various perspectives. This process seems to be shared by humans and certain animal species and appears to be subdivided into the processing of the identity of experienced situations, on the one hand, and of their unity on the other. The article concludes with a critique of overly reflexive and “representational” conceptions of theory of mind which do not distinguish adequately between the ability to “theorise” about the mental states of others and the self-other awareness ability (which is automatic and non-reflexive).

Keywords


Social cognition; theory of mind; empathy; altruism; neuropsychology; somasia; humans; animals; mental states; decentring

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References


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/rela-2014-001-lebo




Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (04/05/2012 n. 211)
Online ISSN 2280-9643 - Print ISSN 2283-3196


Executive Editor: Matteo Andreozzi
Associate Editors: Rod Bennison - Alma Massaro - Kim Stallwood - Jessica Ulrich
Review Editors: Sofia Bonicalzi - Eleonora Adorni
Editorial Board:
Ralph R. Acampora - Carol J. Adams - Matthew R. Calarco - Gabriele Cambiotti - Piergiorgio Donatelli - Arianna Ferrari - William Grove-Fanning - Serenella Iovino - Joel MacClellan - Dario Martinelli - Roberto Marchesini - Barbara Muraca - Serpil Oppermann - Piergiacomo Pagano - Paola Sobbrio - Sabrina Tonutti