Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 April 2008
Imitation, deliberation, and mindreading are characteristically human sociocognitive skills. Research on imitation and its role in social cognition is flourishing across various disciplines. Imitation is surveyed in this target article under headings of behavior, subpersonal mechanisms, and functions of imitation. A model is then advanced within which many of the developments surveyed can be located and explained. The shared circuits model (SCM) explains how imitation, deliberation, and mindreading can be enabled by subpersonal mechanisms of control, mirroring, and simulation. It is cast at a middle, functional level of description, that is, between the level of neural implementation and the level of conscious perceptions and intentional actions. The SCM connects shared informational dynamics for perception and action with shared informational dynamics for self and other, while also showing how the action/perception, self/other, and actual/possible distinctions can be overlaid on these shared informational dynamics. It avoids the common conception of perception and action as separate and peripheral to central cognition. Rather, it contributes to the situated cognition movement by showing how mechanisms for perceiving action can be built on those for active perception.;>;>The SCM is developed heuristically, in five layers that can be combined in various ways to frame specific ontogenetic or phylogenetic hypotheses. The starting point is dynamic online motor control, whereby an organism is closely attuned to its embedding environment through sensorimotor feedback. Onto this are layered functions of prediction and simulation of feedback, mirroring, simulation of mirroring, monitored inhibition of motor output, and monitored simulation of input. Finally, monitored simulation of input specifying possible actions plus inhibited mirroring of such possible actions can generate information about the possible as opposed to actual instrumental actions of others, and the possible causes and effects of such possible actions, thereby enabling strategic social deliberation. Multiple instances of such shared circuits structures could be linked into a network permitting decomposition and recombination of elements, enabling flexible control, imitative learning, understanding of other agents, and instrumental and strategic deliberation. While more advanced forms of social cognition, which require tracking multiple others and their multiple possible actions, may depend on interpretative theorizing or language, the SCM shows how layered mechanisms of control, mirroring, and simulation can enable distinctively human cognitive capacities for imitation, deliberation, and mindreading.