Social cognition and psychopathology: A critical overview


The philosophical and interdisciplinary debate about the nature of social cognition, and the processes involved, has important implications for psychiatry. On one account, mindreading depends on making theoretical inferences about another person's mental states based on knowledge of folk psychology, the so-called "theory theory" (TT). On a different account, "simulation theory" (ST), mindreading depends on simulating the other's mental states within one's own mental or motor system. A third approach, "interaction theory" (IT), looks to embodied processes (involving movement, gesture, facial expression, vocal intonation, etc.) and the dynamics of intersubjective interactions (joint attention, joint action, and processes not confined to an individual system) in highly contextualized situations to explain social cognition, and disruptions of these processes in some psychopathological conditions. In this paper, we present a brief summary of these three theoretical frameworks (TT, ST, IT). We then focus on impaired social abilities in autism and schizophrenia from the perspective of the three approaches. We discuss the limitations of such approaches in the scientific studies of these and other pathologies, and we close with a short reflection on the future of the field. In this regard we argue that, to the extent that TT, ST and IT offer explanations that capture different (limited) aspects of social cognition, a pluralist approach might be best.

Publication Title

World Psychiatry