Towards a neuroscience of social interaction
The burgeoning field of social neuroscience has begun to illuminate the complex biological bases of human social cognitive abilities. However, in spite of being based on the premise of investigating the neural bases of interacting individuals, a majority of studies has focused on studying brains in isolation using paradigms that investigate “offline” social cognition, i.e., social cognition from an observer’s point of view, rather than “online” social cognition, i.e., social cognition from an interactor’s point of view. Consequently, the neural correlates of real-time social interaction have remained largely elusive and may—paradoxically—be seen to represent the “dark matter” of social neuroscience (Schilbach et al., 2013).
More recently, a growing number of researchers have begun to study social cognition from an interactor’s point of view, based on the assumption that there is something fundamentally different when we are actively engaged with others in real-time social interaction as compared to when we merely observe them. Whereas for “offline” social cognition, interaction and feedback are merely a way of gathering data about the other person that feeds into processing algorithms “inside” the agent, it has been proposed that in “online” social interaction the knowledge of the other—at least in part—may reside in the interaction dynamics “between” the agents. Furthermore, being a participant in an interaction may entail a commitment toward being responsive created by important difference in the motivational foundations of “online” and “offline” social cognition.