A Brief History of Applause

In The Atlantic, a wonderful article on the history of applause, from Roman politicians, who used it to gauge their subjects' support, to Facebook Likes.

Experimental studies of applause would make for a wonderful case study in social influence and information cascades.

International Society for Philosophy, History and Soicial Sciences of Biology

The International Society for Philosophy, History and Social Sciences of Biology holds its 2013 conference in Montpellier, July 7-12. Proposals for sessions and contributions from biologists, ecologists, philosophers and historians of biology are welcome until March the 1st. (extended deadline), as well as interdisciplinary sessions. Website: www.ishpssb2013.org

Did human language first emerge as songs?

A thought-provoking new paper on the evolutionary emergence of language by Shigeru Miyagawa, Robert C. Berwick, and Kazuo Okanoya: "The emergence of hierarchical structure in human language." Freely available in Frontiers in Language Sciences 20 Feb 2013.
Abstract: We propose a novel account for the emergence of human language syntax. Like many evolutionary innovations, language arose from the adventitious combination of two pre-existing, simpler systems that had been evolved for other functional tasks. The first system, Type E(xpression), is found in birdsong, where the same song marks territory, mating availability, and similar “expressive” functions. The second system, Type L(exical), has been suggestively found in non-human primate calls and in honeybee waggle dances, where it demarcates predicates with one or more “arguments,” such as combinations of calls in monkeys or compass headings set to sun position in honeybees. We show that human language syntax is composed of two layers that parallel these two independently evolved systems: an “E” layer resembling the Type E system of birdsong and an “L” layer providing words. The existence of the “E” and “L” layers can be confirmed using standard linguistic methodology. Each layer, E and L, when considered separately, is characterizable as a finite state system, as observed in several non-human species. When the two systems are put together they interact, yielding the unbounded, non-finite state, hierarchical structure that serves as the hallmark of full-fledged human language syntax. In this way, we account for the appearance of a novel function, language, within a conventional Darwinian framework, along with its apparently unique emergence in a single species.

PhD at St. Andrews: Exploring the evolutionary roots of cultural complexity, creativity and trust.

Applications are invited to join an interdisciplinary research programme directed by Professors Kevin Laland (School of Biology) and Andrew Whiten (School of Psychology) at the University of St Andrews’ renowned Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution. “Exploring the Evolutionary Origins of Culture Complexity, Creativity and Trust” is funded through a major grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Successful candidates at PhD student level will join a team of over 20 researchers working on the project, studying aspects of social learning, innovation and cultural evolution in monkeys, apes and human participants, or through mathematical and statistical analysis. Funding is available for three years, commencing either September 2013 or September 2014. Closing date: Feb 28 2013. Stipend: £13,390 per annum. Fees and research expenses covered in full. Further Particulars for PhD applicants here.


"Is the human mind unique?" Webcast of conference

Join the live webcast of "Is the Human Mind Unique?" a free public symposium hosted by the University of California, San Diego/Salk Institute for Biological Studies Center for Academic Research & Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA) on Friday, February 15th (1:00 – 5:30 pm Pacific Time), co-chaired by V.S. Ramachandran (University of California, San Diego) and Terry Deacon (University of California, Berkeley). Scientists from many different fields will discuss cognitive abilities often regarded as unique to humans including humor, morality, symbolism, creativity, and preoccupation with the minds of others. Emphasis will be placed on the functional uniqueness of these attributes, as opposed to the anatomical uniqueness, and whether these attributes are indeed quantitatively or qualitatively unique to humans. Access the live webcast here: http://carta.anthropogeny.org/events/is-human-mind-unique

Patterns of Biological and Sociocultural Evolution

International Conference on Evolutionary Patterns: Horizontal and Vertical Transmission and Micro- and Macroevolutionary Patterns of Biological and Sociocultural Evolution.May 27-29th, 2013,Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal. Deadline Submissions: February 1st, 2013

The 3-day International Conference aims to provide an interdisciplinary platform where evolutionary scholars from the exact, technological, life, human and sociocultural sciences can exchange ideas and techniques on how to conceptualize, model, and quantify biological and sociocultural evolution.

Plenary Speakers: Michael Benton, Tal Dagan, John Jungck, Carl Knappett, Daniel McShea, Alex Mesoudi, Mark Pagel, Tyler Volk, and Richard Watson.

Read more: Patterns of Biological and Sociocultural Evolution

Two articles on human evolution

Two interesting articles in the December 2012 issue of Current Antrhopology :
- Michael Tomasello, Alicia P. Melis, Claudio Tennie, Emily Wyman, and Esther Herrmann: “Two Key Steps in the Evolution of Human Cooperation: The Interdependence Hypothesis.
- John Gowlett, Clive Gamble, and Robin Dunbar: “Human Evolution and the Archaeology of the Social Brain.”
For the abstracts,

Read more: Two articles on human evolution

PhD in Cognitive Science at CEU, Budapest

The Department of Cognitive Science at CEU invites applications for doctoral student positions starting in September 2013. This is a research-based training program in human cognition with social cognition and learning as core themes. Research topics include cooperation, communication, social learning, cultural transmission, embodied cognition, joint action, developmental social cognition, strategic decision-making, problem solving, visual cognition, sensory and statistical learning, visual psychophysics, computational neuroscience, and social cognitive neuroscience. Students will follow courses in cognitive psychology, philosophy of mind, cognitive anthropology, computational cognition and linguistics, and will receive practical research training in the laboratories of the members of this new department.

Read more: PhD in Cognitive Science at CEU, Budapest

New issue of Mind & Society

A new issue, of Mind & Society (Volume 11, Issue 2, December 2012). For the ToC,

Read more: New issue of Mind & Society

4 Post-doc and 4 PhDs on 'Knowledge and Culture' in the Netherlands

4 Postdoctoral researchers and 4 PhD positions: The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) will be funding the Horizon research project 'Knowledge and culture':
In various domains of cognitive science, a new paradigm holds that humans and non-human animals are born with a small set of hard-wired cognitive abilities that are task-specific, language-independent, and non-species-specific. These core knowledge systems are innate cognitive skills that have the capacity for building mental representations of objects, persons, spatial relationships, numerosity, and social interaction. In addition to core knowledge systems, humans possess species-specific, uniquely human abilities such as language and music. The ‘core knowledge’ paradigm challenges scholars in the humanities to ask the question how nurture and culture build on nature. This project examines the way in which innate, non specifically human, core knowledge systems for object representation, number, and geometry constrain cultural expressions in music, language, and the visual arts. In this research program, four domains of the humanities will be investigated from the point of view of core knowledge: (1) music cognition; (2) language and number; (3) visual arts and geometry; (4) poetry, rhythm, and meter.  (Full description of the project here.)

Read more: 4 Post-doc and 4 PhDs on 'Knowledge and Culture' in the Netherlands

PhD studentships in Cognitive Science at CEU, Budapest

The Department of Cognitive Science at the Central European University in Budapest invites applications for doctoral student positions starting in September 2013 deadline: January 24, 2013). This is a research-based training program in human cognition with social cognition and learning as core themes. Research topics include cooperation, communication, social learning, cultural transmission, embodied cognition, joint action, cognitive development, strategic decision-making, problem solving, visual cognition, sensory and statistical learning, visual psychophysics, computational neuroscience, and social cognitive neuroscience. Students will follow courses in cognitive psychology, philosophy of mind, cognitive anthropology, computational cognition and linguistics, and will receive practical research training in the laboratories of the members of this new department. Faculty includes:

Read more: PhD studentships in Cognitive Science at CEU, Budapest

Journal of Cognition and Culture: New issue

Volume 12, (3-4) of the Journal of Cogition and Culture is out. TheTable of Content:

Read more: Journal of Cognition and Culture: New issue

The spread of "Correlation does not imply causation"

Daniel Engber's short article at Slate on the success of the misleading formula "correlation does not imply causation" is doubly relevant here: as an example of the epidemiology of a scientific idea, and as a corrective to a cliché all too common in the social sciences:

"So how did a stats-class admonition become so misused and so widespread? What made this simple caveat—a warning not to fall too hard for correlation coefficients—into a coup de grace for second-rate debates? A survey shows the slogan to be a computer-age phenomenon, one that spread through print culture starting in the 1960s and then redoubled its frequency with the advent of the Internet."

Continue reading

Jobs in Evolutionary Anthropology or Psychology at Arizona State

The Arizona State University School of Human Evolution and Social Change seeks to build on existing strengths to develop a world-class program in evolutionary social science, with a focus on the dynamic interactions between biology and culture responsible for human uniqueness. We seek to hire two assistant professors with exceptional scholarly potential in this scientific domain. Minimum qualifications include a Ph.D. in anthropology, psychology,or a closely-related field, and evidence of research productivity and teaching effectiveness.
Desired qualifications include a strong record of field, laboratory, and/or model-based research on the interactions between human culture and biology that is grounded in evolutionary theory. Research should focus on human biocultural evolution in deep or more recent time, biocultural interactions in contemporary societies, and/or research on nonhuman primates (particularly great apes ) relevant to human uniqueness.

Read more: Jobs in Evolutionary Anthropology or Psychology at Arizona State

Paul Harris on How Children Learn from Others

HarrisBookA new book of obvious cognition-and-culture relevance by Paul Harris: Trusting What You’re Told: How Children Learn from Others (Harvard UP, 2012). The blurb:
"If children were little scientists who learn best through firsthand observations and mini-experiments, as conventional wisdom holds, how would a child discover that the earth is round—never mind conceive of heaven as a place someone might go after death? Overturning both cognitive and commonplace theories about how children learn,Trusting What You’re Told begins by reminding us of a basic truth: Most of what we know we learned from others.
Children recognize early on that other people are an excellent source of information. And so they ask questions. But youngsters are also remarkably discriminating as they weigh the responses they elicit. And how much they trust what they are told has a lot to do with their assessment of its source. Trusting What You’re Told opens a window into the moral reasoning of elementary school vegetarians, the preschooler’s ability to distinguish historical narrative from fiction, and the six-year-old’s nuanced stance toward magic: skeptical, while still open to miracles.Paul Harris shares striking cross-cultural findings, too, such as that children in religious communities in rural Central America resemble Bostonian children in being more confident about the existence of germs and oxygen than they are about souls and God.
We are biologically designed to learn from one another, Harris demonstrates, and this greediness for explanation marks a key difference between human beings and our primate cousins. Even Kanzi, a genius among bonobos, never uses his keyboard to ask for information: he only asks for treats."

Our site has been repeatedly attacked by malware

As many of you know, our site was repeatedly attacked by malware this summer, bringing our activities to a halt. We are sorry about this and hope that none of our users' had their computer infected. We are sorry for any inconvenience all this may have cause you. We hope and trust these attacks are over. Our activities will now resume.

The ICCI team

Does Cognitive Science Need Anthropology?

An interesting debate (edited by Andrea Bender, Sieghard Beller, & Douglas L. Medin) on the role of anthropology in and for cognitive science was published in the latest issue of Topics in Cognitive Science (2012, vol. 4, no. 3). Due to constraints of space, only a small number of scholars could be invited to provide commentaries on a (previously circulated) introduction on the challenges to and prospect for a rapprochement between anthropology and the other cognitive sciences. The invitation aimed at a mixture of senior scholars and young scientists from different disciplines (including anthropology, linguistics, philosophy, and psychology). As this selection may have been too constrained and bypassed relevant perspectives on this debate, TopiCS opens a call for brief comments (deadline: October 15, 2012)

Read more: Does Cognitive Science Need Anthropology?

'New [and polemical] thinking' on the evolution of human cognition

A Theme Issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on 'New thinking: the evolution of human cognition' compiled and edited by Cecilia Heyes and Uta Frith, with contributions from, among others, Robin I. M. Dunbar,  Chris D. Frith, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Alison Gopnik, Eva Jablonka, Kevin N. Laland, Nicholas Shea, Kim Sterelny, and Andrew Whiten. Some of it is polemical against evolutionary psychology.

Here is the abstract of Cecilia Heyes’ Introduction to the issue: "Humans are animals that specialize in thinking and knowing, and our extraordinary cognitive abilities have transformed every aspect of our lives. In contrast to our chimpanzee cousins and Stone Age ancestors, we are complex political, economic, scientific and artistic creatures, living in a vast range of habitats, many of which are our own creation. Research on the evolution of human cognition asks what types of thinking make us such peculiar animals, and how they have been generated by evolutionary processes. New research in this field looks deeper into the evolutionary history of human cognition, and adopts a more multi-disciplinary approach than earlier ‘Evolutionary Psychology’. It is informed by comparisons between humans and a range of primate and non-primate species, and integrates findings from anthropology, archaeology, economics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, philosophy and psychology. Using these methods, recent research reveals profound commonalities, as well striking differences, between human and non-human minds, and suggests that the evolution of human cognition has been much more gradual and incremental than previously assumed. It accords crucial roles to cultural evolution, techno-social co-evolution and gene–culture co-evolution. These have produced domain-general developmental processes with extraordinary power—power that makes human cognition, and human lives, unique."


For the abstracts of the other articles,

Read more: 'New [and polemical] thinking' on the evolution of human cognition

Maurice Boch on the Cognitive Challenge to Anthropology

A new book (Cambridge UP 2012) of obvious cognition-and-culture relevance by Maurice Bloch. The blurb:
Maurice book
"In this provocative new study one of the world's most distinguished anthropologists proposes that an understanding of cognitive science enriches, rather than threatens, the work of social scientists. Maurice Bloch argues for a naturalist approach to social and cultural anthropology, introducing developments in cognitive sciences such as psychology and neurology and exploring the relevance of these developments for central anthropological concerns: the person or the self, cosmology, kinship, memory and globalisation. Opening with an exploration of the history of anthropology, Bloch shows why and how naturalist approaches were abandoned and argues that these once valid reasons are no longer relevant. Bloch then shows how such subjects as the self, memory and the conceptualisation of time benefit from being simultaneously approached with the tools of social and cognitive science. Anthropology and the Cognitive Challenge will stimulate fresh debate among scholars and students across a wide range of disciplines."

Call for papers: Panel on cognition and culture at the 17th World Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences

Rita Astuti and Denis Regnier organize a panel at the 17th World Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, titled, 'Evolving Humanity, Emerging Worlds'. The panel's page and call for contributions is here (deadline July 13th).

PhD position in Social Psychology/Experimental Pragmatics

PhD 4-year job position Social Psychology/Experimental Pragmatics at the Univeristé Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium

Job description:

One PhD position is available within a joint project on pragmatics and social cognition, coordinated by Olivier Klein and Mikhail Kissine. The project will start on October 1st 2012 and end in September 2016. The successful candidate is expected to develop and conduct experimental studies on the mechanisms of gullibility and epistemic vigilance in verbal communication. Net monthly salary starts around 1600 €. (Continued below the fold.)

Read more: PhD position in Social Psychology/Experimental Pragmatics

Dual process theories of language and thinking

A special Issue of Mind and Society (vol 11 (1) June 2012) on “Dual process theories of language and thinking”

"There has been increasing interest in recent years in dual process theories of human thought. This special issue of Mind and Society reflects this interest, some criticisms of these theories, and the major topics that have been discussed and debated as a result. There is the basic topic of how the postulated dual processes should be defined in the first place. Do these processes have essential defining features that can be distinguished from less central correlates?... There are questions about how these dual processes work and interact. What do dual process theories tell us about different modes of thought and insight in problem solving? One topic that could throw light on these questions is creative thinking.... There is the much studied but unsettled question of the relation between dual processes and human rationality, whether epistemic or practical... And how do the two processes interact with feelings and emotions? There are also questions about how dual process theories are related to the new probabilistic paradigm in the psychology of reasoning. ... These are some of the important questions addressed in this special issue by leading researchers on human thought."

Here is the table of contents:

Read more: Dual process theories of language and thinking

3rd Budapest CEU Conference on Cognitive Development

The CEU Budapest Conference on Cognitive Development, organised by the Cognitive Development Center, is the only annual European conference focusing on cognitive development. The Third BCCCD will take place January 10-12, 2013. Invited speakers: Stanislas Dehaene (Collège de France) and Laurie Santos (Yale University). Invited symposium on 'Bayesian modeling of cognitive development' (Organizer: Noah Goodman - Stanford University). Submissions for symposium proposals and poster are welcome in all related topics and areas.

Read more: 3rd Budapest CEU Conference on Cognitive Development

Social learning in humans and nonhuman animals

An interesting issue of the Journal of Comparative Psychology (2012, Volume 126, Issue 2) on social learning in humans and nonhuman animals. From the intro: "The past decade has seen a resurgent, concerted interest in social learning research comparing human and nonhuman animals. In this special issue, we present a synthesis of work that consolidates what is currently known and provides a platform for future research. … We include both new empirical studies and novel theoretical proposals describing work with both human children and adults and a range of nonhuman animals." For the ToC,

Read more: Social learning in humans and nonhuman animals

The Smartphone Psychology Manifesto

 In Perspectives on Psychological Science (May 2012 vol. 7), Geoffrey Miller publishes a "Smartphone Psychology Manifesto" (available here) with methodological suggestions for the use of smartphones in psychological research that could indeed have a huge impact on the study of cognition and culture.

Abstract: "By 2025, when most of today’s psychology undergraduates will be in their mid-30s, more than 5 billion people on our planet will be using ultra-broadband, sensor-rich smartphones far beyond the abilities of today’s iPhones, Androids, and Blackberries. Although smartphones were not designed for psychological research, they can collect vast amounts of ecologically valid data, easily and quickly, from large global samples. If participants download the right “psych apps,” smartphones can record where they are, what they are doing, and what they can see and hear and can run interactive surveys, tests, and experiments through touch screens and wireless connections to nearby screens, headsets, biosensors, and other peripherals. This article reviews previous behavioral research using mobile electronic devices, outlines what smartphones can do now and will be able to do in the near future, explains how a smartphone study could work practically given current technology (e.g., in studying ovulatory cycle effects on women’s sexuality [suggestions of possible cognition-and-culture topics welcome - ICCI]), discusses some limitations and challenges of smartphone research, and compares smartphones to other research methods. Smartphone research will require new skills in app development and data analysis and will raise tough new ethical issues, but smartphones could transform psychology even more profoundly than PCs and brain imaging did."

Science Magazine's special issue on Human Conflict

ScienceMagThis May 18, Science has a special issue on human conflict, of evolutionary, cognitive and cultural relevance, with contributions from Scott Atran, Christopher Boehm, Samuel Bowles, Frans de Waal, and many others. From the introduction:

“In this special issue on human conflict, we consider the deep evolutionary roots of violent confrontation. We trace the trajectory of violence and war throughout history, exploring racism, ethnic conflicts, the rise of terrorism, and the possible future of armed conflicts. We also consider our innate capacity to mediate conflict and our ability to achieve—and live in—peace.
Competition and conflict both among and within species, for food or a place to live or a mate, are implicit in the process of evolution and thus intrinsic to our biology. But like many other animals, we are also social beings, and, like them, we have evolved behaviors to avoid the detrimental effects of excessive intraspecies violence. These include ritual singing or fighting displays, acts of submission or conciliation, and simple spatial avoidance seen in diverse species as birds, ants, and our primate relatives.

Read more: Science Magazine's special issue on Human Conflict

the Journal of Cognition and Culture: a new issue


The new issue (vol 12, 1-2) of the Journal of Cognition and Culture is out. For the table of content and abstracts:

Read more: the Journal of Cognition and Culture: a new issue

2 postdocs at UBC in evolution, cognition and culture

Joe Henrich informs us: The Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition and Culture (HECC) at the University of British Columbia will be hiring 5 post-doctoral researchers as part of a large, international, collaboration among psychologists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, historians, and biologists on the evolution of religion. Below is a call for applications for two of these positions. The first is for a historian to spearhead a systematic and comparative study of religion and prosociality (from the historical record). This person will work with Prof. Ted Slingerland. The second is for comparative ethnographic and experimental studies among living populations across the globe (on religion, ritual and prosociality). This person will work with Prof. Ara Norenzayan and me. We are open to anthropologists, psychologists and economists, among others. If possible, we'd like to have this person in place by September 2012 (or at least by Dec). We know that right now is a bad time to search for post-docs to start this fall. For this reason, we would like to consider applicants that can finish their PhD in the fall (perhaps earlier than anticipated) and come immediately to Vancouver.

Read more: 2 postdocs at UBC in evolution, cognition and culture

Lectureship in Cognition and Culture at Belfast

A position of Lecturer is open in the School of History and Anthropology at Queen's University, Belfast, to "teach and supervise at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, to participate in the research activities of the Institute of Cognition and Culture, to undertake research in line with the School’s research strategy, and to contribute to the School’s administration and outreach activities." Deadline: May 21, 2012. Details here.

 

The social motivation theory of autism

Just out in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, "The social motivation theory of autism," an article (available here) by Coralie Chevallier, Gregor Kohls, Vanessa Troiani, Edward S Brodkin, and Robert T Schultz that challenges the dominant explanation of autism in terms of a Theory-of-Mind deficit. Given the role that the case of autism plays in our understanding of human sociality, this is of high cognition-and-culture relevance.

The first paragraph of the article: "Over the past three decades, a number of theories have been put forward to account for the pervasive social impairments found in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Among the various attempts, the idea of a core deficit in social cognition (theory of mind, or ToM, in particular) has become one of the most prominent accounts of ASD. Concomitantly, the impact of motivational factors on the development of social skills and social cognition has received little attention. Recently, however, social motivation has emerged as a promising research domain at the intersection of social psychology, behavioral economics, social neuroscience and evolutionary biology. In this review, we integrate these diverse strands of research and defend the idea that social motivation is a powerful force guiding human behavior and that disruption of social motivational mechanisms may constitute a primary deficit in autism. In this framework, motivational deficits are thought to have downstream effects on the development of social cognition, and deficits in social cognition are therefore construed as a consequence, rather than a cause, of disrupted social interest."

The concluding remarks: "The social world summons our attention like no other domain: social signals are prioritized by attention, interactions are intrinsically rewarding, and social maintaining permeates interpersonal behaviors. Social motivation is subserved by dedicated biological mechanisms and can be seen as an evolutionary adaptation to humans’ highly collaborative environment: by enhancing attention to social information, by rewarding social interactions, and by promoting the desire to effectively maintain social bonds, social motivation smoothes relationships, promotes coordination and ultimately fosters collaboration. In ASD, by contrast, there appears to be an overall decrease in the attentional weight assigned to social information. Diminished social orienting, social reward and social maintaining are all found in autism and can account for a range of behaviors, including cascading effects on the development of mature social cognitive skills. These deficits appear to be rooted in biological disruptions of the orbitofrontal–striatal–amygdala circuitry, as well as in dysregulation of certain neuropeptides and neurotransmitters. ASD can thus be seen as an extreme case of early-onset diminished social motivation and provides a powerful model for understanding humans’ intrinsic drive to seek acceptance and avoid rejection."

Do infants understand social dominance relations?

Forthcoming in PNAS, a groundbreaking article by Olivier Mascaro and Gergely Csibra investigating the "Representation of stable social dominance relations by human infants" (available here).

Abstract: What are the origins of humans’ capacity to represent social relations? We approached this question by studying human infants’ understanding of social dominance as a stable relation. We presented infants with interactions between animated agents in conflict situations. Studies 1 and 2 targeted expectations of stability of social dominance. They revealed that 15-mo-olds (and, to a lesser extent, 12-mo-olds) expect an asymmetric relationship between two agents to remain stable from one conflict to another. To do so, infants need to infer that one of the agents (the dominant) will consistently prevail when her goals conflict with those of the other (the subordinate). Study 3 and 4 targeted the format of infants’ representation of social dominance. In these studies, we found that 12- and 15-mo-olds did not extend their expectations of dominance to unobserved relationships, even when they could have been established by transitive inference. These results suggest that infants' expectation of stability originates from their representation of social dominance as a relationship between two agents rather than as an individual property. Infants’ demonstrated understanding of social dominance reflects the cognitive underpinning of humans’ capacity to represent social relations, which may be evolutionarily ancient, and may be shared with nonhuman species.

Additional information