Santa Lucia - Neurosciences and Rehabilitation Sapienza University of Rome


Building the physical and psychological self: from a bodily to a spoken interpersonal dialogue

In this review, we propose that interpersonal bodily interactions represent a fertile ground in which the bodily and psychological self is developed, gradually allowing for forms of more abstract and disembodied interactions. We start by focusing on how early infant-caregiver bodily interactions, mediated by the sense of touch, play a crucial role in shaping the boundaries of the self but also in learning to predict others’ behavior. We then explore the social function of the sense of touch in the entire life span, highlighting its role in promoting physical and psychological wellbeing by supporting positive interpersonal exchanges. We go on by introducing the concept of implicit theory of mind, as the very early ability to interpret others’ intentions, possibly grounded in infant-caregiver bodily exchanges (embodied practices). In the second section, we embrace a more collective perspective about the role of sociality in human development, by describing the hypothesis of “dialectical attunement”, reconsidering the self beyond the individual, where it really emerges, unfolds, and manifests itself — in social relationships. We finally consider the most evolved forms of social relationship: intellectual exchanges among individuals. In this regard, we defend the view that, beside the apparent private dimension of “thinking abstractly”, using abstract concepts is an intrinsically social process, as it entails the re-enactment of the internalized dialogue through which we acquired the concepts in the first place.

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