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Chapter 4

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Chapter 4: Self and Consciousness The ability to identify with others and to distinguish between self and other plays an important role in inter-subjective relationships. Human adaptation involves an understanding of others, but also an understanding of the self as different from others. Indeed, the self cannot be viewed in isolation from our view of others, but relies deeply on how we represent people. Thus the self is perceived in relation to the other. The development of a concept of self is seen as a pivotal aspect of social development, and is an important and necessary condition in the identification of others and self as social. The concept of self is a multifaceted phenomenon. It involves more than recognition of perceptual features of the self and a differentiation of animate and inanimate objects in the environment. Thus, an understanding of the self must involve an awareness of the physical, social/mental, and representational aspects of the self. The concept of self, like other. concepts, may have its roots in early infancy, but a mature concept of self is constructed with age and increases in complexity throughout childhood. Infants are conscious of their own emotions and are able to recognize similar emotions in others. This way infants form shared representations of the emotions of self and others, suggesting that infants represent the other as similar in some way, as like me. Thus there is self other awareness through the mutual sharing of emotions in infants. I posit that infants from the beginning of life have biases and preferences; have a capacity to form and test hypotheses and participate in affective and cognitive processes. This cognitive and affective functioning is unified and is not experienced separately by the child, but it is distinguished from that of others. Philosophical reflections Descartes suggested that he knew that he existed because he thought. Rationalists and empiricist epistemologists, monistic and dualistic mind body positions are not really able to address the problem of self-awareness as long as they do not address the genetic dimension of this problem. These genetic epistemologists propose that there are several levels of the self such as the physical, the social, and the mental that are internal to the mind (e.g. innate) and of which humans become conscious during their first year of life. Evidence about the development of a self-concept in infancy has, however, proved difficult to find, perhaps because of methodological problems, and consequently many theories that have been developed in this area are speculative. However, in order to interact meaningfully with others, one has to identify oneself as human and similar to others. Thus, the development of a concept of self is fundamental for sociality, for social interaction, and consequently for Theory of Mind development. Perceptual versus conceptual methods The distinction between perceptual and conceptual awareness refers to the different experimental paradigms that researchers employ to assess awareness of certain aspects of the self. Some methods only allow us to infer a perceptual awareness from infant responses, whereas others allow us to interpret that infants possess a conceptual understanding of self, one that is stable, and provides infants with a sense of uniqueness. Experimental paradigms that provide information on perceptual self-awareness in infants often rely on the products of the infants perceptions of, or direct experience with, environmental stimuli that identify the self. For example, mirror studies can only claim that infants are familiar with certain aspects of the physical self . Such studies provide little direct information about the mental self. Even studies where 18-month-olds wipe off a rouge spot from their forehead can only talk about self-perception or self-recognition. These studies usually rely on the emergence of other symbolic types of behaviors at that age (language or the tendency to display self-conscious emotions such as embarrassment when noticing the red spot) to argue that mirror self-recognition reveals a conceptual awareness of the self. It is possible that these great apes, just like infants, use contingency (when I move so does the image) to identify aspects of the physical self. It is more difficult to show when infants sense of self is a mental or conceptual ability. Studies that aim to provide evidence for a conceptual or representational awareness of the self must show that infants are aware of the self in the absence of immediate sensory experience. In this case, infants identifications of self are products of their mental capacities (e.g. inferences, representations, etc.). Infants would be able to draw on this knowledge when perceptual stimulation is not available. It could be argued that infants understand that people show by their gaze direction to what they are psychologically connected. If true, such awareness would be evidence of a mentalistic conception of people, and of the self. It is important to distinguish between a perceptual method, e.g. one that can only assess what the infant sees, hears, e.g. perceives in the environment, and one that relies on what infants infer from internal representations of the self. Perceptual versus conceptual theoretical orientations Many theorists argue that perceptual self-awareness is a precursor to a conceptual awareness of the self. These theorists propose that infants go through a period in development where infant awareness of self is related only to what infants perceive of themselves through external or internal physical stimulation. This type of self concept is not stable or enduring, because it does not exist in the absence of such stimulation. With development, these earliest perceptions about the self are overturned and changed into a more appropriate (realistic), representational awareness of self. During the first stage the infant is a behaviorist and during the second stage the infant is a psychologist. The problem with the perception/conception distinction is how one can differentiate between these two cognitive processes (the conceptual or high functioning mode and the experiential or low-functioning cognitive mode) and at the same time explain the emergence of both modes of processing from the same origin: as resulting from interactions among innateness and experience. Many propose that a primitive sort of self-awareness or consciousness exists at birth, and that with development a more complex consciousness develops. Whereas the perceptual/conceptual divide proposes that infants develop from an experiential/perceptual-motor to a qualitatively different mental/conceptual awareness of self, those that argue for a continuum in conscious awareness propose that infants develop from primary consciousness, which includes primitive representations of the physical/social as well as the mental aspects of self, to a higher order consciousness, which entails a fully developed concept of self. Piaget and the self Piaget has argued that before infants can understand the self as an independent object, they need to have an understanding of other objects. Piaget argued that during the first developmental stages (the reflexive, the primary and secondary circular reactions), the infant is in an adualistic stage and does not differentiate between self and the environment. Adualistic here means that infants are self-centered; they are not aware of their sociality and mental states, nor are they aware of the environment. Infants actions during this period are repetitive and always centered on the infants own body. Thus when infants pick up a rattle, the interest of the infant is not focused on the sound the rattle produces, rather infants perceive the rattle simply as an extension of their own arms and continue the actions in a kind of circular, repetitive way for their own pleasure. During the stage of secondary circular reactions, the actions are also continued for the pleasure they bring, but now the infant perceives that the sound is produced by the rattle, andconsequently continues to shake the rattle in order to continue to be able to hear the sound. Although self/other differentiation begins around this point, it is not until stage 6 (around 18 months) that infants become able to represent themselves as different from others and to view themselves as an independent object in space. This is the onset of conceptual knowledge; infants change their subjective understanding of the world and their selves to an objective understanding. Thus Piaget proposes that perceptual awareness precedes and is qualitatively distinct from conceptual awareness and argues for an initial state of dualistic confusion or of normal autism . After the initial adualistic state, infants enter a state of dualism where a differentiation between self and other social and nonsocial objects are made. Psycho- analysts such as Mahler argue that at birth the infant is in a symbiotic state (undifferentiated). This state is maintained by caretakers who respond to every whim of their infants. With maturation (at around 10 months of age) most caretakers begin to introduce a delay of gratification into their responsiveness. It is then that infants begin to become aware of their surroundings and their self-existence (id/ego differentiation). Mirror studies initially supported the idea that infants progress from a lack of self- awareness to the existence of one. It was found that infants treated mirrors as objects, playing with them and patting them, and that only by around 18 months did infants begin to view themselves in the mirrors. Whereas previously they had touched the mirror, infants now began to touch the red spot on their head that had been surreptitiously put there, or infants became shy (seeing a spot on their head) and turn away or cover their faces. However, as
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