Autism and the Dynamic Developmental Model of Emotions

The present paper argues that what the phenomenon of autism may really represent is not, as has been argued by some, a window into the hidden mechanisms involved in a theory of mind, but rather a window into the conceptual problems involved in Cartesianism that lead one to postulate the need for a theory of mind. Far from constituting an anomaly for the Cartesian view of social cognition and empathy, autism actually exemplifies it. After reviewing the main themes in the Cartesian view of emotions, which underpin the view that the ability to understand facial expressions of emotion must be innate, the paper considers how recent advances in dynamic systems research have laid the groundwork for a non-Cartesian view of this capacity. Such a non-Cartesian view of emotional experience then leads to a new understanding of the factors that place a child at risk of developing autism.