Engagement: Looking beyond the mirror to understand action understanding

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Abstract

In this paper, we argue that the current focus on mirroring as the route to explaining the development of action understanding is misleading and problematic. It facilitates a fundamentally spectatorial stance, ignoring engagement and dialogue; it focuses on similarity between self and other and neglects difference; and it succumbs to the static terminology of mechanism rather than a dynamic language of process. Contrary to this view, dialogic exchanges are evident from the start of life, revealing infants' ability to engage with and respond appropriately to actions that are outside their own motor repertoire. We suggest that engagement rather than mirroring better accounts for many current findings in action understanding. The neurological evidence to date shows that action perception involves a process of continuous synchronization and change, suggesting that it might be more fruitful for research and theory to look beyond mirroring and instead adopt dynamic processual explanations of action understanding within interaction.

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