Predictive processing and cognitive development

Regina E. Fabry*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

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The ability to acquire new cognitive capacities is the hallmark of the human mind. Emerging predictive processing (PP) accounts promise to offer a unified, mechanistic perspective on the neuro-functional realization of this complex process. The acquisition of any given cognitive capacity can be depicted as a specific stage of the continuous prediction error minimization process. This stage is characterized by distinct functional profiles, unique patterns of neuronal activation in crucial brain areas, and the refinement and flexible adaptation of motor programs to new processing challenges. In this paper, I will suggest that PP is a good conceptual partner for accounts of enculturation. Enculturation is the idea that socio-culturally shaped cognitive processes emerge from an individual’s scaffolded, embodied interaction with its cognitive niche. This structured engagement with specific, socio-culturally developed patterns in the niche transforms the overall cognitive capacities of an individual (Menary 2013; Menary 2015). The process of enculturation is associated with significant changes in the functional and structural properties of the brain. Furthermore, it alters and refines the functional profiles of bodily actions and motor programs. I will argue that PP offers important conceptual tools and theoretical considerations that complement these basic principles of enculturation in a new and original way. The resulting account of the enculturated predictive acquisition of cognitive capacities (EPACC) has the conceptual resources to consider specific cases of cognitive development at multiple levels of explanation. This new perspective on EPACC is a timely contribution to the debate about the philosophical implications of PP. On the one hand, Jakob Hohwy (Hohwy 2013) argues that PP implies an internalistic and neurocentric view of cognition. On his account, the embodiedness of cognitive systems and their flexible interaction with the local environment do not seem to play an important role in accounts of cognitive processes. On the other hand, Andy Clark (Clark 2016) defends the idea that PP is compatible with philosophical positions that emphasize the embodied, embedded, extended, or enacted (4E) dimensions of cognition. In this paper, I will discuss both interpretations of PP and assess their relationship to EPACC. I will challenge the internalistic account of PP on conceptual grounds. At the same time, I will argue that EPACC offers a concrete proposal for the complementarity of PP and enculturation. The overall argument is that the acquisition of new, socio-culturally shaped cognitive capacities is a matter of enculturation. The underlying neuronal and bodily transformation routines can be described in terms of PP. However, if we aim for a full-fledged account of the complexity and fragility of cognitive development, we also need an account of the fine-grained interactions of novices with their structured environment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPhilosophy and predictive processing
EditorsThomas Metzinger, Wanja Wiese
Place of PublicationFrankfurt am Main
PublisherMIND Group
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9783958571389
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Publisher 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • cognitive niche construction
  • cognitive norms
  • embodied cognition
  • enculturation
  • neural plasticity
  • neural reuse
  • predictive processing
  • scaffolded learning


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