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mise à jour du
26 septembre 2002
Trends in Cognitive Sciences 1999; 3; 12
How do we represent the minds of others ?
in Social cognition and the human brain
Ralph Adolphs
Department of neurology, University of Iowa USA
Resonance behaviors and mirror neurons G Rizzolatti, V Gallese
Contagious yawning: the role of self-awareness and mental state attribution Platek SMet al.


La contagion du bâillement est-elle une simulation ? Goldman en 1992 a conceptualisé la simulation : "processus mental qui est, ou vise à être, isomorphe avec le processus cible qu'il vise à imiter". Reste à déterminer les mécanismes neurophysiologiques sous jacents à ce qui peut se définir en un mécanisme mimétique non cognitif.
Découverts dans le cortex prémoteur ventral du macaque, dans les aires F4 et F5, les « neurones miroirs » répondent aussi bien en situation d'observation que d'exécution d'une action (Rizzolatti 1988; Rizzalotti et Gallese 1997). En d'autres termes, ils peuvent être activés soit parce que le sujet effectue une action d'un certain type vers un certain objet, soit parce qu'il observe la même action en train d'être effectuée par un congénère ou par un humain. Ces neurones miroirs semblent être également présents dans le cerveau humain. Des travaux de stimulation magnétique transcrânienne effectués sur l'homme par Fadiga (1995) montrent que lorsqu'un sujet observe une action particulière, les potentiels évoqués moteurs relatifs aux muscles correspondants sont sélectivement amplifiés chez le sujet qui observe, comme s'il se préparait à accomplir lui-même l'action observée, relativement à un sujet qui contemple des objets.
Aucun travail de neurophysiologie n'a actuellement concerné le bâillement et sa contagion. Il ne s'agit là qu'une d'un hypothèse hardie que je formule. Tiré d'un travail de Ralphs Adolphs : Social Cognition and the human brain, cette page du site participe à cette réflexion : " Comment peut-on attribuer des états mentaux à autrui ? ".....
Primates appear to be highly skilled at predicting other individuals'behavior, but there is vigorous debate about how to interpret such an ability. The mechanisms by which we represent and predict other people's behavior have been viewed from two different theoretical perspectives. The two main camps argue either for a 'theory of mind', or for a set of processes that permits 'simulation' of other minds. The 'theory'-theory has been floated for some time in philosophy of mind as a possible explanation of what is commonly called 'folk psychology': our commonsense understanding of other people's behavior in terms of intervening mental states, such as beliefs, desires and intentions, on the basis of which people act.
The other camp, however, views our ability to recognize and reason about other people's states of mind as an example of experience projection; in essence, we know other minds by empathy, or by simulation. It is likely that both these views have some truth to them, depending on the circumstances (see Ref. a for examples of both sides of the debate). The theory view might afford greater economy and generalizability of prediction, or might be particularly suited to information that can be lexically encoded; but simulation may be the only option in cases that are sufficiently idiosyncratic, or in cases where the information is not easily encoded into language. In the latter situation, it could be that the only way to predict what another person will do is to run in one's own brain the processes that the other person is running in theirs. If this possibility is taken seriously, it suggests a role for conscious experience in social cognition: to obtain information about another person's internal mental state, it may be necessary to imagine what it would be like to be the other person via direct simulation. Simulation might find its developmental origins in infants'ability to mimic facial expressions spontaneously, and it has found some recent neurophysiological support from the finding ofso-called'mirror neurons', which appear to participate in simulating the actions of other individuals.
Research into how we represent other minds began with a question about whether or net chimpanzees might possess a theory ofmind (Ref. d), a question that is still unanswered (Ref e). In humans, the theory-of-mind question was posed concretely in terms of the ability to attribute beliefs, specifically false beliefs, to other individuals. It has been shown that this ability begins to emerge around age four or possibly earlier (Refs f g). The abilities that constitute a theory of mind have been fractionated into several distinct components, such as the ability to attribute desires, to recognize objects of shared attention, and to monitor others' direction of gaze. All these different components appear at distinct developmental stages in humans, and there is evidence that some of them may be selectively impaired in subjects with autism, a disorder that exhibits marked difficulties in social behavior (Ref. h).
Several lesion and functional imaging studies have investigated the neural structures by which subjects generate knowledge about other people's mental states. In addition to a large literature demonstrating the involvement of amygdala, orbitofrontal cortices, and right hemisphere cortices in more general processing of emotion, including recognition of emotion in others, some studies have explicitly investigated attribution of higher-order mental states, such as beliefs and intentions. A recent study by Stone et al. found that subjects with bilateral damage to the orbitofrontal cortex were specifically impaired in their ability to attribute higher-order mental states to other people from stories (Ref i). In particular, they were unable to detect a faux pas, something that subjects with high-functioning autism (Asperger syndrome) also fail. A functional imaging study that compared brain activation during theory-of-mind tasks between normal and high-functioning autistic subjects found evidence that secrets of left medial prefrontal cortex were also important to reason about other people's mental states (Ref j), a finding consistent with earlier studies that showed that processing words for mental states (Ref k), or reasoning about the beliefs and intentions of others (Ref. 1), normally activates regions in media] prefrontal cortex.
In regard to the amygdala, an fMRI study demonstrated amygdala activation when normal subjects had to attribute mental states and intentions to other people from looking at pictures of their eyes (Ref. m). Interestingly, this is a task that high-functioning subjects with autism fail behaviorally (Ref n), and also in which, unlike normal individuals, the amygdala does net appear to be activated (Ref m). As fat as right hemisphere somatosensory-related cortex is concerned, in addition to a large literature implirating this region in more general emotional processing, a recent lesion study showed that damage to this area can impair the ability to attribute mental states, such as false beliefs, to other individuals (Ref. o).