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Toward a second-person neuroscience1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 July 2013

Leonhard Schilbach
Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital of Cologne, 50924 Cologne, Germany.
Bert Timmermans
School of Psychology, King's College, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3FX, Scotland, United Kingdom.
Vasudevi Reddy
Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth, King Henry Building, Portsmouth, Hampshire PO1 2DY, United Kingdom.
Alan Costall
Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth, King Henry Building, Portsmouth, Hampshire PO1 2DY, United Kingdom.
Gary Bente
Department for Psychology, Social Psychology II – Communication and Media Psychology, University of Cologne, 50931 Cologne, Germany.
Tobias Schlicht
Institute of Philosophy, Ruhr-University Bochum, 44780 Bochum, Germany.
Kai Vogeley
Institute of Neuroscience & Medicine, Cognitive Neuroscience (INM-3), Research Center Juelich, 52428 Juelich, Germany; and Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital of Cologne, 50924 Cologne, Germany.


In spite of the remarkable progress made in the burgeoning field of social neuroscience, the neural mechanisms that underlie social encounters are only beginning to be studied and could – paradoxically – be seen as representing the “dark matter” of social neuroscience. Recent conceptual and empirical developments consistently indicate the need for investigations that allow the study of real-time social encounters in a truly interactive manner. This suggestion is based on the premise that social cognition is fundamentally different when we are in interaction with others rather than merely observing them. In this article, we outline the theoretical conception of a second-person approach to other minds and review evidence from neuroimaging, psychophysiological studies, and related fields to argue for the development of a second-person neuroscience, which will help neuroscience to really “go social”; this may also be relevant for our understanding of psychiatric disorders construed as disorders of social cognition.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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Authors Leonhard Schilbach and Bert Timmermans have contributed equally to this article.


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