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The Emergence of Self: Sensing Agency through Joint Action

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This article explores the role of social factors in the emergence of self and other. It is suggested that the experience of causing actions contributes to a basic sense of self in which awareness of mental states and the experience of a mental self are grounded. According to the proposed evolutionary scenario, the experience of agency emerged as individuals acting in social context learned to differentiate between effects caused by their own actions and effects resulting from joint action. Through joint action, individuals also developed an understanding of others' actions as goal-directed, paving the way for imitation. The ability to distinguish between action capabilities of self and other and the understanding that action-effect principles apply equally to self and other may have provided important advantages in circumstances where cooperative action and social learning were critical. The current proposal adds to previous evolutionary scenarios in that it identifies social conditions that may have shaped a basic sense of self. This, in turn, could have given rise to theory of mind and the cultural construction of mental selves.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Psychology Department, Rutgers University, 101 Warren Street, Newark, NJ 07102, USA, Email:

Publication date: 2007-01-01

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