The enactive mind, or from actions to cognition: lessons from autism

Ami Klin, Warren Jones, Robert Schultz, Fred Volkmar

Abstract

Normative–IQ individuals with autism are capable of solving explicit social cognitive problems at a level that is not matched by their ability to meet the demands of everyday social situations. The magnitude of this discrepancy is now being documented through newer techniques such as eye tracking, which allows us to see and measure how individuals with autism search for meaning when presented with naturalistic social scenes. This paper offers an approach to social cognitive development intended to address the above discrepancy, which is considered a key element for any understanding of the pathophysiology of autism. This approach, called the enactive mind (EM), originates from the emerging work on ‘embodied cognitive science’, a neuroscience framework that views cognition as bodily experiences accrued as a result of an organism's adaptive actions upon salient aspects of the surrounding environment. The EM approach offers a developmental hypothesis of autism in which the process of acquisition of embodied social cognition is derailed early on, as a result of reduced salience of social stimuli and concomitant enactment of socially irrelevant aspects of the environment.

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