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To believe that social cognition is based on an observational stance where we try to figure out the mental states of others as detached scientists does not do justice to our social reality.

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The process of social understanding cannot therefore be resolved by the sole effort of one person but it arises in the in-between of interaction, it is constituted by social interaction and shaped by emotional engagement De Jaegher and Di Paolo, ; De Jaegher et al. In Reddy words: engagement in the interaction does not only provide information about minds but creates them.

As Fuchs also emphasizes, drawing on phenomenologists such as Husserl and Scheler, what distinguishes object perception and the perception of another person lies in a radically different attitude toward the object.

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Object perception is an enactive and dynamic process in which we immediately perceive things according to their affordances, for their predictability and the possibilities of action they offer to us 12 Gibson, Engagement, resonance, and responsiveness are therefore core defining aspects of a second-person perspective. Importantly, this attitude toward others implies not only the recognition of similarity as it is stressed by a first-person, simulationist approach , but also the acknowledgment of difference.

In fact, in order to experience the other as a particular other to whom we are responsive, we need to recognize his or her difference from us, otherwise we would simply reduce their experience to our own Reddy, This becomes clear from a phenomenological point of view Zahavi, , when considering the notion of empathy, which is regarded as constituting the core of pre-reflective social understanding. The notion of empathy, as it is understood in phenomenology, is truly second personal: we encounter others as embodied subjects, we are able to empathically grasp their experience, and still, the experience we make of them is different from their original experience Zahavi, Indeed, as noted by Murray and Holmes :.

The phenomena Reddy points to are well-known and hard to deny. Emotions do shape the way we experience each other. Similarly, she criticizes Gallagher for confusing two different notions of understanding: namely, understanding others in terms of their mental states and understanding as basically engaging or interacting. Although engagement and interaction are important and constitutive for social understanding, they cannot be confused with it; contrary to what Gallagher b claimed, social cognition is not the same as social interaction Dullstein, But when we speak of understanding the psychological life of others, what we mean is precisely that we understand what others are up to, why they are doing what they are doing, and what that means to them.

To put it differently, interpersonal understanding crucially involves an understanding of the actions of others, of their whys, meanings and motives. And in order to uncover these aspects, it is not sufficient simply to observe expressive movements and actions, we also have to rely on interpretation, we also have to draw on a highly structured context of meaning Zahavi, , p. This is the place where TT and ST still play a role in understanding: we may in fact need to assume a more detached stance toward others and try to infer or simulate their mental states in order to understand them Gallagher, a , b ; Fuchs, Therefore, social cognition should be rather seen as a collaborative enterprise of mutual understanding about the persons involved, their beliefs, their experiences, and emotions Dullstein, Similarly, at the implicit level, the same process may be understood, with Waldenfels as a mutual tuning of the two partners involved, as it happens, for example, in caregiver—infant proto-conversations Dullstein, Cronen et al.

All these aspects play a constitutive role in social understanding and come into play in every social encounter. If we adopt a second-person perspective in understanding social cognition, what are the implications for the particular kind of interaction that is the focus of this paper, namely the relation between a researcher and a person presenting with a psychopathology? How may the insights coming from the social cognition debate enlighten the methodological process of research in psychopathology?

If we start from the last and strongest claim by Ratcliffe , that any kind of interpersonal understanding is always constituted and influenced by the interaction in which it arises, we may first start to see that the research process is not as linear as it would seem. There is no epistemic subject the researcher gathering information about an epistemic object the patient , but a dynamic process of sense-making in which both participants, as well as the interaction and its context or setting , have a constitutive although different role.

Indeed, especially in psychopathology research, one needs to acknowledge that patients are not passive objects to be analyzed but, according to a second-person approach, they always contribute to the process of understanding. These considerations necessarily raise the issue of validity in psychopathology research: are our descriptions and theories actually about what we claim to be the object of our research i. If, as Rommetveit claims, psychology is a communicative genre, the data we elicit always contain information not only about the other, but also about ourselves.

Moreover, drawing on Reddy account, we may push this argument even beyond the level of communication into the very pre-reflective process of perception:. Conversely, our proprioceptive experience of our own acts and reactions and feelings always involves the perception of what relevant others are doing, saying or feeling.

As the psychologist John Shotter put it, there is a constant intertwining and intermingling of the two p. Although Reddy argues that within active emotional engagement this link between proprioceptive experience of the self and of self-feelings-for-the other and perceptive experience of other-feelings-for-the-self is much tighter than in uninvolved observation, she also reckons that this intertwinement still happens even in more disengaged stances. Methodologically, it is therefore necessary to acknowledge this link and, for the sake of validity, it is important to find ways to disentangle it.

In contrast to quantitative research methods that postulate the neutral observational position of the researcher, qualitative methods in psychology and therefore in psychopathology research acknowledge reflexivity: that is, the researcher, in gathering the data and producing the analysis, is always a constitutive and influencing part of the research process Dallos and Vetere, ; Lyons and Coyle, We consider the use of reflective practice, in its different forms and techniques, a very important methodological step for the research process.

Di Maggio et al. Another methodological implication of a second-person perspective, which again seems to be coherent with qualitative research methods, has to do with idiography.

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  4. From a second-person perspective, we see the other as a particular other:. Engagement in the second person allows us to experience others within our emotional responses to them as particular others—an experiencing which is more than simply a recognition of their similarity to ourselves.

    Similarly, idiography is concerned with the particular person: in contrast to nomothetic approaches, which are rather concerned with making claims at the population level and demonstrating general rules, idiographic approaches value the in-depth and detailed analysis of particular cases. It is not the case that idiography eschews generalization, only, the strategies for generalizing are different and the methodological focus is on validity rather than on reliability Smith et al.

    In this case, generalization is not based on statistical average but on the typicality of a case a prototype. In fact, the most illuminating cases are often not the most common ones statistically speaking but rather the exceptional ones; in this sense, the generalization from these cases qualitatively provides an expansion of understanding on the studied phenomenon Parnas et al. As we have seen, the recognition and acknowledgment of the other person in his or her difference and uniqueness, the active role of the other person in the process of interaction and the constitutive influence of the very interaction process for social understanding are core claims of a second-person perspective that have important methodological implications.


    Though, a second-person approach not only makes us aware that the knowledge about the epistemic object comes from our relationship with it but also that this relationship is mainly played out at the embodied level of engagement and empathy, which constitutes the core of social understanding. As we have outlined, phenomenological approaches contributed to the social cognition debate by highlighting the role of direct, pre-reflective processes of understanding that take place in the actual encounter between embodied subjects.

    The relevance of the embodied here and now situation of the clinical interview has also been stressed by the more recent phenomenological approach of Parnas et al. This first step allows the interviewer to be open toward the other and engage in a truly second personal and dialogical process of exploration, rather than monologically lead the interview according to predefined assumptions. Notwithstanding the importance of this methodological shift, a second-person method cannot be limited to the here and now encounter between two embodied subjects.

    The intersubjective endeavor of the research process in fact does not end with interviewing but goes on through the whole process of analysis and a thorough methodological reflection on this process seems to be missing in contemporary phenomenological psychiatry. But how can we understand what we cannot immediately empathically grasp in the interaction?

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    How can we make sense of the ambiguous or bizarre behaviors 17 which often lead the diagnosis of a psychopathology that do not actually appear to be meaningful to most of us? As mentioned above, in cognitive science, the problem of how to understand the other in ambiguous situations, when primary and pre-reflective intersubjective processes of understanding are not enough, was often solved through a shift from an implicit second-person stance to an explicit third or first personal, reflective stance.


    The same shift can be often witnessed in psychopathology research, when moving from the here and now interview situation to the actual process of data analysis. Yet, the way this experience is accounted for in the analysis process seems to fall back into a third-person approach, since a checklist is used for evaluation. By doing this, the researcher assumes an independent and neutral third personal stance. Although the EASE checklist is inspired by a phenomenological theory of schizophrenia, this does not ensure that the methodology is truly phenomenological or second personal.

    We do not deny the usefulness of checklists and of third-person approaches in general. Sometimes they constitute a necessary step for the research process, which should ideally combine different methods or tools; we believe that methodological pluralism is the way to go. Nevertheless, when applying a third-person method, it is important to be aware of its implications and, as highlighted above, of the problems that come with it. Using a checklist to read through empirical data may indeed be a useful way to validate a theory; on the other hand, though, if the authority of the analysis process remains with the theory as in the case of third-person methods the risk is to fall into a tautological process, where a theory is built on a reading of empirical data according to the same theory.

    Another example of this methodological issue is Davidson qualitative phenomenological analysis of interviews with persons with schizophrenia. The process of analysis though, seems to be rather first personal in the method that is applied for understanding the elicited narratives.

    Family semantic polarities and positionings: A semantic analysis | Aisberg

    We do this—especially in cases in which the meaning of the experience is far from obvious—as one might do in certain acting classes, by recalling experiences in our own lives that have similarities to the experiences in question Davidson, , p. Conative empathy is a more reflective and cognitive task that requires more than implicit attunement at the level of the lived body. Through the recognition of difference, the process of interpersonal understanding takes the form of a hermeneutic circle of negotiation of meaning between two autonomous subjectivities.

    Stanghellini therefore proposed hermeneutics as a framework for understanding psychopathology, which may be coherent with a second-person stance:.

    Semantic Polarities and Psychopathologies in the Family

    Second-person understanding, which requires an involvement engagement of the researcher interviewer , but not of the kind that may obstruct the reliability of results, complements the first-person approach. An integration of phenomenology and hermeneutics has already been recognized as pointing in the direction of a second-person methodology, although the combination of the two has been so far rather unsatisfactory; in fact, hermeneutics has been only considered mainly for its role in interviewing techniques Stanghellini, , or in psychotherapeutic praxis Fuchs, Instead, we argue that hermeneutics together with phenomenology should be taken seriously for a methodological grounding of the process of understanding at play in psychopathology research.

    Integrating phenomenology and hermeneutics, Smith et al. The dual process of understanding in IPA unfolds through a double hermeneutics , i. This accords well with what Reddy has argued, namely that a second-person methodology needs to be balanced between engagement and disengagement, being involved and at a distance, stepping into and out of the frame to explore it better. In this dual process, we temporarily try to suspend or better, bracket away, in the sense that they are acknowledged and tracked down, not ignored our own personal lens to become more sensitive to the experiences of the other during both interviewing and analysis.

    When reading the transcripts, we note different kinds descriptive, linguistic, interpretative, and self-reflexive of comments at both margins of the text and we make use of a research journal to track and bracket our thoughts that may be later integrated in the interpretation. To put it in Smith et al. It is not that you should not be curious and questioning; it is that your questioning at this phase of the project should all be generated by attentive listening to what your participant has to say.

    However, if we are to avoid a third-person theorizing stance, interpretation cannot be based on a hermeneutics of suspicion 18 Smith et al.