Self-organization in the development of social cognition: Symmetry breaking and the relational-models framework

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Bolender J.

PSYCHOLOGIA, vol.50, no.4, pp.255-272, 2007 (SSCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 50 Issue: 4
  • Publication Date: 2007
  • Doi Number: 10.2117/psysoc.2007.255
  • Journal Name: PSYCHOLOGIA
  • Journal Indexes: Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.255-272
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: No


Alan Page Fiske has made a strong empirical case that social cognition is structured by four elementary mental schemata, the "relational models". Fiske argues that the four models are innate, and he thus concludes that they are encoded in the genome. But work on self-organization suggests that biological structures can be innate without being genetically encoded. Plausibly, the four models result from principles of self-organization, specifically a sequence of symmetry-breaking bifurcations. The evidence for this lies in the fact that the four models can be arranged in a sequence from more-to-less symmetrical, exemplifying a chain of descending subgroups. This formal property is commonly observed in self-organizing systems. Furthermore, the less symmetrical the model, the later it first appears in childhood, This is analogous to embryonic development in which the organism begins in a highly symmetrical state and develops into a less symmetrical one, plausibly due to a sequence of symmetry breakings. It is also analogous to the acquisition of syntax, in which it has been argued that the initial state of the language faculty is highly symmetrical and hence relatively simple, with syntactic complexity partly deriving from a sequence of symmetry breakings plus interactions with other mental faculties. Explaining complexity in terms of symmetry breaking and interaction with other mental faculties can also plausibly be applied to social cognition, suggesting a parallel with minimalism in syntactic theory.