Fotopoulou, A, Tsakiris, M., Mentalizing homeostasis: The social origins of interoceptive inference
Neuropsychoanalysis,Vol. 19, No. 1, 3–28, 2017
Is the self already relational in its very bodily foundations? The question of whether our mental life is initially and primarily shaped by embodied dimensions of the individual or by interpersonal relations is debated in many fields, including psychology, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and more recently, cognitive neuroscience. In this interdisciplinary target article, we put forward the radical claim that even some of the most minimal aspects of selfhood, namely the feeling qualities associated with being an embodied subject, are fundamentally shaped by embodied interactions with other people in early infancy and beyond. Such embodied interactions allow the developing organism to mentalize its homeostatic regulation. In other words, embodied interactions contribute directly to the building of mental models of the infant’s physiological states, given the need to maintain such states within a given dynamic range despite internal or external perturbations. Specifically, our position rests on the following three propositions: (1) the progressive integration and organization of sensory and motor signals constitutes the foundations of the minimal self, a process which we have linked to contemporary, computational models of brain function and named "embodied mentalization”; (2) interactions with other people are motivated and constrained by the same principles that govern the “mentalization” of sensorimotor signals in the individual – and hence the mentalization of one’s body can include signals from other bodies in physical proximity and interaction, especially in interaction with particular bodies. (3) Crucially, given the dependency of humans in early infancy, there is a “homeostatically necessary” plethora of such embodied “proximal” interactions,
especially as regards interoception. Collectively, such experiences of proximal intercorporeality“ sculpt” the mentalization process and hence the constitution of the minimal self, including the progressive sophistication of mental distinctions between“ subject-object, ”self-other” and even “pleasure-pain.” Finally, we explore notions of cardiac and more broadly interoceptive awareness as later, cognitive acquisitions that allow us to progressively solidify such distinctions, as well as understand and empathise with other people.