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Social mirrors and the brain: Including a functional imaging study of role-play and verse

Whitehead, Charles Beresford; (2003) Social mirrors and the brain: Including a functional imaging study of role-play and verse. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This thesis attempts to bridge the conceptual gulf dividing social from biological anthropology using three main lines of argument: 1. Enculturated human cooperation originated in expanded systems of kinship and reciprocity which require obfuscation of selfish bodies. Disembodied self perceptions characterize all human belief systems including the behavioural sciences. This prevents our fully appreciating that the most distinctive feature of human behaviour is a formidable armamentarium of social displays. 'Social mirrors' underpin human self-awareness, social intelligence, and innate altruism (the ability to identify with others). 2. Social displays engage multiple sensorimotor systems and probably account in part for our large brains. I present a study of role-play and verse, the first in a proposed programme aiming to map social mirroring functions in the brain. There were three main findings: 1. Cortical areas that are most expanded in humans, and would be expected to show increased activity during role-play, were only apparent when 'switching off role-play, 2. The subjectively 'easy' control tasks showed greater brain activity than the 'difficult' role-play tasks, 3. Verse and prose activations were indistinguishable. Since role-play activations were not apparent in role-minus-control conditions, role-play may be a continuous mental activity in awake human adults. Cognitive effort may be required to suppress social imagination during non-social tasks. The brief flash of increased activity in presumed role-play areas during the role-to-control switch may implicate dissociation. The findings are at least consistent with a 'play and display' hypothesis of hominid brain expansion. 3. A 'play and display' hypothesis, compared with cognocentric/logocentric hypotheses, makes better sense of the fossil and archaeological records of human evolution.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Social mirrors and the brain: Including a functional imaging study of role-play and verse
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Social sciences; Role-play; Verse
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10106210
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