We describe a “centipede’s dilemma” that faces the sciences of human interaction. Research on human interaction has been involved in extensive theoretical debate, although the vast majority of research tends to focus on a small set of human behaviors, cognitive processes, and interactive contexts. The problem is that naturalistic human interaction must integrate all of these factors simultaneously, and grander theoretical mitigation cannot come only from focused experimental or computational agendas. We look to dynamical systems theory as a framework for thinking about how these multiple behaviors, processes, and contexts can be integrated into a broader account of human interaction. By introducing and utilizing basic concepts of self-organization and synergy, we review empirical work that shows how human interaction is flexible and adaptive and structures itself incrementally during unfolding interactive tasks, such as conversation, or more focused goal-based contexts. We end on acknowledging that dynamical systems accounts are very short on concrete models, and we briefly describe ways that theoretical frameworks could be integrated, rather than endlessly disputed, to achieve some success on the centipede’s dilemma of human interaction.
Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 2013, Vol 59, p. 43-95