Project 1 (Gallagher, Elias)

Enactive and Extended Cognition in Social Institutional Contexts

Context and motivation

Moving beyond dyadic relations, research on team cognition has suggested that successful communication and interaction is highly context dependent in social practices and social institutions, in specific locations, with specific objects, or distributed across diverse information systems (Elias et al. 2011; Fiore et al. 2008). Recent theoretical work on distributed cognition in social institutions (Gallagher and Crisafi 2009; Crisafi and Gallagher 2009) challenges the parity conception of the extended mind, which focuses on strict measures of reliability, trustworthiness, and ease of accessibility for small scale technologies geared for individual use (Clark 2008). These criteria are more a matter of degree and cannot be strictly applied to prolonged and complex external processes associated with individual or group engagement within larger social institutions, such as legal or health delivery systems.

Such cognitive and communicative processes are carried out via the cooperation of many people relying on external (and conventional) cognitive schemas, schedules, norms and practices in specific contexts and locations that are institutionally defined. Such interactive processes supervene on large and complex cultural and institutional systems without which they could not happen. Individuals and groups interact with such social (cultural, political, military, economic, religious, etc.) institutions forming coupled systems that allow new kinds of behavior to emerge. Interactions in institutional structures offer possibilities for the creation of meaning unavailable in one-to-one or even small group interactions.

In this theoretical context the work by Gallagher and Elias will focus on relations between embodied practices, habit formation, and language. The latter may be understood as a primary institution and the basis for the formation of other institutions.

The research

Our purpose is to gain theoretical insight into intersubjective interaction within the structure of institutional practices. Specifically the proposal is (i) to understand the role of language and communicative practices in establishing and maintaining institutional structures; (ii) to study empirically particular cases of how institutional practices shape cognition and intersubjective interaction, and specifically, how they improve or impede such processes.

We’ll begin by focusing on the theoretical background, conducting a literature search, and conceptual clarification of issues pertaining to the role of language in situations defined by significant institutional structures. As one example, the practice of science, as an institution itself, and as conducted within specialized institutions (universities, centers of excellence) relies on specialized language skills,

formal and informal practices, including communicative practices that may facilitate or hinder intersubjective interaction and the carrying out of a specific project. This is especially the case if the project is interdisciplinary, involving non-empirical (e.g., humanities) disciplines.

Part of our research involves the study of one such interdisciplinary science project at a TESIS partner institution (the Institute of Simulation and Training (IST) at the University of Central Florida). The project involves an interdisciplinary team from three universities (UCF, University of Memphis, Humboldt University in Berlin), including researchers in psychology, neuroscience, engineering, art history, and philosophy, using cutting-edge technologies for measuring behavior, physiology, and neuronal activities (including wireless EEG and Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS)) in simulated (virtual and mixed reality) scenarios. As participants we will help to design and conduct experiments using the latest technology in modeling and simulation; as observers, we’ll have a unique perspective on the specific social-linguistic-communicative practices and the institutional norms that both enable and limit the research process.


This project has the potential to produce revolutionary work that links research in the theory of interactive intersubjectivity to questions about institutional structures, communicative practices, and to debates about participatory (embodied and enactive) and language-based interactional expertise. With respect to social cognition and intersubjectivity, we think this project will provide one way to move beyond current theory based on dyadic processes and mechanisms that are narrowly cognitive. We hope to further extend considerations about extended cognition, where there has been little focus on larger institutional processes. Extending the analysis to larger, sometimes specialized, but sometimes, quite pervasive structures allows for new insights that will have relevance to various applied areas of sociology, management, and organizational development.


Crisafi, A. and Gallagher S. 2010. Hegel and the extended mind. Artificial Intelligence & Society. 25 (1): 123-29. Published online, November 2009. DOI 10.1007/s00146-009-0239-9

Elias, J., Morrow, P.B., Streater, J., Gallagher, S., & Fiore, S.M. 2011. Towards Triadic Interactions in Autism and Beyond: Transitional Objects, Joint Attention, and Social Robotics. Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 55 (1): 1486-1490

Fiore, S. M., Elias, J., Gallagher, S., & Jentsch, F. 2008. Cognition and Coordination: Applying Cognitive Science to Understand Macrocognition in Human-Agent Teams. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Symposium on Human Interaction with Complex Systems.

Gallagher, S. and A. Crisafi. 2009. Mental institutions. Topoi 28 (1): 45-51.