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.
Susan Hurley, who passed away in August 2007, had been Professor and Chair in Philosophy at the University of Bristol since August 2006 and was also a Fellow of All Souls College in Oxford. She had served as Professor and Politics and International Studies affiliate at the University of Warwick for the previous twelve years. Her most recent research had been in philosophy of psychology and neuroscience, focusing on consciousness, social cognition (imitation and mindreading), and action (rationality, control, responsibility). She had also worked in political philosophy and related areas, with a particular interest in bringing the cognitive and social sciences into constructive contact. Hurley's books include Natural Reasons: Personality and Polity (Oxford University Press, 1989), Consciousness in Action (Harvard University Press, 1998), Justice, Luck and Knowledge (Harvard University Press, 2003), and edited volumes on the foundations of decision theory, on imitation, on rationality in animals, and on human rights. Hurley did her undergraduate work in philosophy at Princeton University and her graduate work in philosophy (a B.Phil. and a doctorate) at Oxford University. She also earned a law degree at Harvard University. After four years (1981–1984) as a Junior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, Hurley spent ten years as a Tutorial Fellow in Philosophy at Oxford, before moving to Warwick. At the time of her passing, Hurley was one of the Principal Investigators on a large multicentre project studying the role of the natural and social environment in shaping consciousness.