Attention schema theory, an interdisciplinary turn? Cognition, culture and institutions

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Moving beyond the distinction between biological and social facts has proved challenging due to several basic methodological and ontological differences among scientific disciplines. The aim of this paper is to show how attention schema theory (hereafter AST), developed by Michael Graziano, provides a useful addition to existing integrative approaches that can be used to overcome impediments to interdisciplinary cross-fertilization, such that the influence of a range of interconnected institutional, situational, biographical, psychological, neural and genetic variables can be considered simultaneously in a parsimonious way. The paper provides an overview of three basic methodological and ontological differences dividing scientists researching human nature and society. It then draws on AST and a selection of existing approaches in the interdisciplinary vein to demonstrate how to move beyond the reductionist tendencies of each discipline. In the view of AST, intrinsic brain processes and social and situational aspects are intricately intertwined and continuously influence each other in shaping specific attentional focuses. Social identities, biographical experiences, symbols, roles and subject positions contribute to directing attention to certain kinds of stimuli, details, or information, while at the same time, intrinsic predispositions make individuals inclined to attend to different types of information. By accounting for the brain basis of awareness as a subjective experience, AST can be used to clarify how social identities influence attention, and thus, the linkages between individual cognition and wider institutional structures. Finally, the paper considers the relationships between the cognitive and the institutional levels of analysis, and highlights the importance of the latter as a distinct level of analysis. In this way, the paper charts the multidirectional and interactive causal relationship between intrinsic brain processes, attention and conscious awareness, and how they relate to wider institutional structures and joint attentional interactions at higher levels of aggregation.


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Sidor (från-till)88-107
TidskriftAnthropological Theory
Utgåva nummer1
Tidigt onlinedatum2016 nov 7
StatusPublished - 2017 mar
Peer review utfördJa