mise à jour du
29 janvier 2018
Behav Brain Sci.
Philosopher's disease and its antidote:
Perspectives from prenatal behavior
and contagious yawning and laughing
Robert R Provine
Department of Psychology University of Maryland Baltimore
Autres articles de R. Provine et R. Baenninger
Neonatal imitation in context: Sensorimotor development in the perinatal period
Keven N, Akins KA.
More than 35 years ago, Meltzoff and Moore (1977) published their famous article, "Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates." Their central conclusion, that neonates can imitate, was and continues to be controversial. Here, we focus on an often-neglected aspect of this debate, namely, neonatal spontaneous behaviors themselves. We present a case study of a paradigmatic orofacial "gesture," namely tongue protrusion and retraction (TP/R). Against the background of new research on mammalian aerodigestive development, we ask: How does the human aerodigestive system develop, and what role does TP/R play in the neonate's emerging system of aerodigestion? We show that mammalian aerodigestion develops in two phases: (1) from the onset of isolated orofacial movements in utero to the postnatal mastery of suckling at 4 months after birth; and (2) thereafter, from preparation to the mastery of mastication and deglutition of solid foods. Like other orofacial stereotypies, TP/R emerges in the first phase and vanishes prior to the second. Based upon recent advances in activity-driven early neural development, we suggest a sequence of three developmental events in which TP/R might participate: the acquisition of tongue control, the integration of the central pattern generator (CPG) for TP/R with other aerodigestive CPGs, andthe formation of connections within the cortical maps of S1 and M1. If correct, orofacial stereotypies are crucial to the maturation of aerodigestion in the neonatal period but also unlikely to co-occur with imitative behavior.

Philosopher's disease and its antidote: Perspectives from prenatal behavior and contagious yawning and laughing
Robert R. Provine
Abstract: Accounts of behavior, including imitation, often suffer from philosopher's disease: the unnecessary, inappropriate, theoretically driven explanation of behavior in terms of cognition, rationality, and consciousness. Embryos are perversely unphilosophical and unpsychological, starting to move before they receive sensory input. Postnatal contagious yawning and laughing indicate that pseudo-imitative behavior can occur without conscious intent or other higher-order cognitive process.
When we seek to understand behavior &endash; our own and that of others &endash; we suffer from philosopher's disease: the unnecessary, inappropriate, theoretically driven casting of behavior in terms of higher-order cognitive processes.
In these accounts, we often commit the error of intentionality, the over-estimate of our voluntary, conscious control of behavior. The antidote for philosopher's disease and its associated theoretical biases is research based on the natural priorities of organisms that is derived from objective descriptions of behavior.
I suggest that we are not very good philosophers and can benefit from the examination of nontraditional sources for insight and guidance, especially prenatal behavior and postnatal contagious behaviors such as yawning and laughing (Provine 2012). The best place to start the investigation of behavior is at the beginning &endash; prenatal behavior. Early embryos are profoundly unphilosophical and unpsychological beings that start to move before they receive sensory input. They spond before they respond. Such motor precocity is an awkward fact for developmental psychologists who seek only environmentally driven causes of behavior (sensation/perception, learning, motivation, etc.) and neglect spontaneous movement (Provine 2012).
The agenda of postnatal psychology fares poorly when forced upon the prenatal domain. Even after sensory input becomes available, it has little impact on most ongoing behavior during the prenatal period (Provine 1972). If this is not challenge enough, the spinal cord, not the brain, is the origin of the electrical discharges that drive much embryonic behavior (Provine & Rogers 1977). Both the functions and causes of embryonic behavior are novel and unique to the prenatal niche. Embryonic movement is essential for the development of joints, muscles, and the regulation of neuron numbers, behavioral consequences neglected by most developmental psychologists (Provine 2012).
How many developmental psychologists know that paralyzing embryos blocks the naturally occurring death of motor neurons? Instinctive yawning (Provine 2005), and laughing (2000; 2016; 2017) provide informative examples of erroneous thinking about the causes of behavior. Yawning is considered a pseudolinguistic gesture of sleepiness or boredom, and laughing is a play vocalization emitted in certain social settings, but neither is under strong voluntary control. We can neither convincingly yawn nor laugh on command, and attempts to do so seem fake and have long latencies (Provine 2012).
However, lack of conscious control does not curtail the composition of fictive narratives to explain their occurrence. Contagion provides another challenge to the myth of conscious control that is especially relevant to the issue of infant imitation of the sort reported by Meltzoff and Moore (1977) (Provine 1989a; 2012). When we yawn in response to observed yawns (Provine 1986) or laugh in response to observed laughs (Provine 1992), is it a conscious effort to imitate another person? Both options are unlikely, given the low level of voluntary control of yawning and laughing (Provine 2012).
I suggest, instead, that such contagion is the involuntary consequence of activation of a feature detector for yawns or laughs in the observer's brain. The detector for laughter is probably acoustic &endash; the sound of laughter triggers laughter of the listener (Provine 1992; 2000). The trigger for yawning is more broadly tuned &endash; almost any stimulus associated with yawning will trigger yawns, including looking at them (Provine 1986; 1989b), hearing them, thinking about them (Provine 1986), or even reading about them as you are now doing (Provine 1986). If you desire a broader menu of contagious and pseudo-imitative acts, examine coughing, vocal crying, emotional tearing, reddening of the eyes, nausea/vomiting, and itching/scratching (Provine 2012).