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Annu Rev Psychol. 2012;63:287-313. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100449. Epub 2011 Aug 11.

Mechanisms of social cognition.

Author information

1
Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging, London, UK. c.frith@ucl.ac.uk

Abstract

Social animals including humans share a range of social mechanisms that are automatic and implicit and enable learning by observation. Learning from others includes imitation of actions and mirroring of emotions. Learning about others, such as their group membership and reputation, is crucial for social interactions that depend on trust. For accurate prediction of others' changeable dispositions, mentalizing is required, i.e., tracking of intentions, desires, and beliefs. Implicit mentalizing is present in infants less than one year old as well as in some nonhuman species. Explicit mentalizing is a meta-cognitive process and enhances the ability to learn about the world through self-monitoring and reflection, and may be uniquely human. Meta-cognitive processes can also exert control over automatic behavior, for instance, when short-term gains oppose long-term aims or when selfish and prosocial interests collide. We suggest that they also underlie the ability to explicitly share experiences with other agents, as in reflective discussion and teaching. These are key in increasing the accuracy of the models of the world that we construct.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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