Extending the self through the tools and the others: A general framework for presence and social presence in mediated interactions

Giuseppe Riva, Fabrizia Mantovani

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The concept of "presence" originated from and was diffused by a technological scientific community at the same time as the introduction of a unique piece of communication technology, teleoperators: robots controlled from a distance by a human operator. In this case the term telepresence refers to the human operator's sensation of being present in the remote location in which the teleoperator is situated. However, different recent neuropsychology studies suggest that presence has a key role in our cognitive processes: it is the the outcome of an intuitive metacognitive process that allows us to control our actions through the comparison between intentions and perceptions. Specifically, presence has three critical features that cannot be explained by other cognitive processes. First, presence "locates" the Self in an external physical and/or cultural space: The Self is "present" in a space if he/she can act in it. Second, presence provides feedback to the Self about the status of its activity: The Self perceives the variations in presence and tunes its activity accordingly. Third, presence allows the evolution of the Self through the incorporation of tools: Tools do not enable us only to extend our reaching space, but when successfully mastered become part of a plastic neural representation of our body that allows their use without further cognitive effort (intuitively). In this way we can focus our cognitive resources on actions that are not only related to the here-and-now, improving the complexity of our goals. The concept of presence concerns the subject and his or her ability to act in the world: I am present in a real or virtual space if I manage to put my intentions into action intuitively. But how does one connect to the Other? How does the Other become present for the subject? The recent discovery of mirror neurons - A class of neurons that are activated both during the execution of purposeful, goal-related actions, and during the observation of similar actions performed by another individual - suggests the existence of a second selective and adaptive mechanism, "social presence", which enables the Self to identify and interact with the Other by understanding his intentions: it is the outcome of an intuitive metacognitive process that allows us to understand the actions of an enacting Other through the comparison between his/her expected intentions and perceptions. In other words, from an evolutionary point of view, social presence has three functions. First, social presence enables the subject to identify the Other and to attribute to him an ontological status - "the other similar to the self" - different from the other objects perceived. Second, social presence allows interaction and communication through the understanding of the Other's intentions. Third, social presence, permits the evolution of the Self through the identification of "optimal shared experiences" (Networked Flow) and the incorporation of artifacts - physical and social - linked to them.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInteracting with Presence: HCI and the Sense of Presence in Computer-Mediated Environments
PublisherDe Gruyter Open Ltd
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9783110409697, 3110409674, 9783110409673
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Mediated interaction
  • Others
  • Presence
  • Self
  • Social presence
  • Tools

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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