Zoe Sánchez – Direct Social Perception

Direct Social Perception – Zoe Sánchez (Universidad Nacional de Córdoba)


The direct social perception (DSP) approach claims that we can directly perceive some mental states of other people. Specifically, DPS rejects the thesis that all types of mindreading involve inferential or other higher cognitive processes from perceptual information about a person´s bodily and verbal behavior to a cognitive representation of the mental states underlying that behavior. DSP advocates have generally focused on intentions and emotions as the mental state types capable of being directly perceived because these kinds of mental states are closely linked with salient facial expressions and behavior. For example, “I see the anger in someone´s face” or “I see the embarrassment in the color of his cheeks” “hear the trepidation in their voice or feel the exuberance in their handshake.’

In this paper, I will focus on the direct perception of emotions and pointed out that, DPS couldn’t explain, in principle, the following fact: In some occasions, people interpret more accurate the emotions of people they know better, such as their relatives or friends. In other words, they improve their interpretation when they have rich information about context and the agent´s beliefs and goals, behaviors, personality etc. In this respect, some empirical studies suggest when the interpreters have specific information about the agent´s mental states or his context attribute different types of emotion, even though the agent has the same facial expression. These results suggest that other psychological processes like inferences or other beliefs take place in the emotion recognition tasks.

Considering these ideas, I think that we can follow, at least, two strategies:

  1. i) We can use this evidence against the DPS model and think that the process of the recognition of emotions is, in most cases, explained better by traditional approaches like Simulation Theory (ST) or Theory of Theory (TT).
  2. ii) We can defend that the direct perception model can be used in these particular cases but with some modifications.

I want to argue in favor of the second option and I will propose a way to enrich and improve the DPS model. I consider that DPS can be enriched with two additional notions: On the one hand, taking into account the importance of the interaction and familiarization of the interpreter with the behavior of the agent and, on the other hand, incorporating an additional notion, named “the thesis of the penetrability of perception”. According to the latter, perception is influenced in some way by other psychological states such as beliefs, desires or other higher order psychological processes. Considering this idea, it could be the case that the content of the perception is previously influenced with different types of information (from the context, the interpreted, the type of emotion, etc.) that allow us to identify the emotions of the interpreter better. As I believe, these two additional elements could account for how the interpreter develops a learning and expertise about the emotions of the agent that allows him to make more adjusted and flexible attributions.

To sum up, I consider that an enrich DPS model could explain this empirical data without quitting a perceptual way to capture other´s people emotions.