Our site has technical problems and is in the process of being updated and re-vamped. If you have trouble posting a comment, send it, please to our webmistress Tiffany
. Thank you for your patience!
- Category: Dan's blog
- Published on Friday, 25 December 2009 00:00
- Written by Dan Sperber
When we started this blog, we hoped that anthropologists among our readers would be willing to contribute 'pictures of the week', photos (or videos) that would illustrate in a suggestive manner a theme of cognition-and-culture relevance, but we had very little success and, sadly, we have all but given up. Here however is video not from an ethnographer but suggested by 3QuarksDaily and borrowed from YouTube that illustrates in a pleasant and timely manner how cultural items borrowed in another culture get transformed in the direction of a better integration to their novel environment.
Original creation by: Nupur. Music by: Amartya Rahut.
- Category: Simon's blog
- Published on Thursday, 24 December 2009 00:00
- Written by Simon Barthelme
While taking a break, we are happy to republish some of our favorite 'oldies but goodies'. This one was first put online in December of last year (2008). It was the first installment of a series of posts on Richard Nisbett's theory of culture and perception. Enjoy!
In a lively account published in Trends In Cognitive Sciences (see here), Nisbett and Miyamoto (2005) made the case for "cultural" influences on perception. The crux of the argument is this : visual perception in Americans is more analytical, while in Asians it is more holistic. Americans pay attention to details, Asians to the larger picture. Americans examine objects in isolation, Asians are more sensitive to context. In the authors' own words (p. 469):
"[...], we believe there is considerable evidence that shows that Asians are inclined to attend to, perceive and remember contexts and relationships whereas Westerners are more likely to attend to, perceive and remember the attributes of salient objects and their category memberships. It should be noted that the perceptual and attentional differences just described are in general quite large, sometimes even close to one standard deviation. Indeed, in the typical study, Asians and Westerners were found to behave in qualitatively different ways."
The evidence referred to above consists of psychological experiments that compared the behaviour of Westerners and Asians using mostly well-established paradigms. Change blindness, for example, is a popular staple of visual psychology: people often fail to detect large differences between two pictures shown in succession.
- Category: Publications
- Published on Wednesday, 23 December 2009 11:21
- Written by Dan Sperber
Jennifer J. Pokorny and Frans B. M. de Waal show that "Monkeys recognize the faces of group mates in photographs" (PNAS December 22, 2009 vol. 106 no. 51 21539-21543)
Subjects need to select the odd facial image from among four. On this trial, the odd image is a member of group 1 (Top Left) compared with three members of group 2. For monkeys living in group 1 this trial represents the In-group Odd condition, but for those living in group 2 it is the Out-group Odd condition.(©2009 by National Academy of Sciences)
Abstract: Nonhuman primates posses a highly developed capacity for face recognition, which resembles the human capacity both cognitively and neurologically. Face recognition is typically tested by having subjects compare facial images, whereas there has been virtually no attention to how they connect these images to reality. Can nonhuman primates recognize familiar individuals in photographs? Such facial identification was examined in brown or tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella), a New World primate, by letting subjects categorize facial images of conspecifics as either belonging to the in-group or out-group. After training on an oddity task with four images on a touch screen, subjects correctly identified one in-group member as odd among three out-group members, and vice versa. They generalized this knowledge to both new images of the same individuals and images of juveniles never presented before, thus suggesting facial identification based on real-life experience with the depicted individuals. This ability was unexplained by potential color cues because the same results were obtained with grayscale images. These tests demonstrate that capuchin monkeys, like humans, recognize whom they see in a picture.
- Category: Brian's blog
- Published on Friday, 18 December 2009 00:00
- Written by Brian Malley
In some traditions there is an interesting gap betweeen what people think they are going to learn from the tradition and what actually ends up being transmitted. Recently I found a nice example of that while practicing Qi Gong.
In his classic Seventy-two arts of Shaolin (Zhong, 2004) Jin Jing Zhong describes the training method “Covering with a golden bell.”
This exercise is a hard one, it strengthens both outside (muscles, bones, sinews) and inside (the inner organs). It is the most important hard exercise out of all 72 Arts. This exercise is rather complicated and difficult. It is necessary to make a mallet of stuff and strike with it on the whole surface of the body, on the front and the back. At first you will feel some pain but after training for a long time feeling of pain will gradually disappear. At that time the mallet of stuff can be replaced with a wooden one. When you feel no pain from blows, the wooden mallet can be replaced with an iron one. Bring to perfection until you feel no pain from blows.
If you practise this method for two or three years, your breast and your back will become strong like stone or iron; it is of no importance whether the enemy punches or kicks, it will do no harm. Even a sword blow will not do any injury to a man who practises the skill of “Gold Bell.” Chest and back bones of that man become compacted like a single whole. It is necessary to use tinctures to cure bruises of muscles and bones after blows with mallets or falls (somersaults).
Similar in method and aim are two other special training methods, “Iron shirt” and “Iron bull.” All promise that, after several years of hard training, the devotee’s body will be invulnerable to normal blows and even to edged weapons such as swords and spears.
Now, if you are thinking, “bullshit,” then don’t worry, I am too. But hold on.
- Category: Publications
- Published on Wednesday, 16 December 2009 00:00
- Written by Dan Sperber
In the special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B entitled "Personal perspectives in the life sciences for the Royal Society's 350th anniversary", a freely available article on "The social brain: allowing humans to boldly go where no other species has been" by Uta Frith and Chris Frith ( Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 12 January 2010 vol. 365 no. 1537 165-17). Also a video interview of Uta and Chris here. Abstract below the fold.
- Category: Olivier's blog
- Published on Sunday, 13 December 2009 00:00
- Written by Olivier Morin
Olivier Morin and Sophie Claudel
Human argumentation is at the center of recent (and less recent) psychological work. We are learning a lot about our ability to argue. But the motivation behind human arguing is less well known. What makes us want to argue back at other people, even when we know they won't be convinced ? Internet Trolls know a few answers to that question. We are studying their culture from the inside.
"Just consider how terrible the day of your death will be. Others will go on speaking and you won't be able to argue back" - Ram Mohun Roy (HT: Hugo)
A few weeks ago, the web was all abuzz about with one of those stories people are so fond of discussing online. A Canadian woman, who couldn't work because of a depression, lost her sick-leave benefits over a few photographs that were displayed on Facebook. She was smiling on the photographs. The anecdote provoked widespread outrage and rekindled the endless debate over Internet privacy.
But the story in itself did not interest Steve that much. Where other people see a scandal, Steve sees an opportunity for fun. That night, he logged himself on a forum devoted to discussing the condition and problems of depressive people - one among a dozen medical forums where Steve, under a variety of aliases, is a regular. He quickly spotted the thread where the Facebook scandal was being discussed, licked his lips, and began typing something like this:
"It serves her right, if you ask me. You can't defraud insurance companies and think of yourself as a responsible person. It's not the victimless crime it appears to be. Depression is not a real disease anyways."
He clicked 'Send', and waited for the angry reactions to pour in.
- Category: Events
- Published on Friday, 11 December 2009 09:08
- Written by Lucien Dontask
A special series of lectures supported by the LSE Annual Fund, organised by the department of anthropology of the LSE and the International Cognition and Culture Institute. All lectures to be held at 6pm the London School of Economics, Seligman Library, room A607, Old Building, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE.
The videos of the lectures will be available here, at the Cognition and Culture Institute !
- Tuesday January 12th: Paul Harris (Harvard), "Do children think that miracles are just fairy stories?"
- Monday January 18th: Susan Carey (Harvard), "The origin of concepts"
- Tuesday February 2nd.: Maurice Bloch (LSE), "Reconciling social science and cognitive science views of the self, the person, the individual etc..."
- Thursday February 18th: Stanislas Dehaene (College de France), "How do humans acquire novel cultural skills? The neuronal recycling model"
- Monday March 1st: Tanya Luhrmann (Stanford), "Hearing God: how American evangelicals learn to experience God as real"
- Monday March 8th: Pascal Boyer (Washington), "The naturalness of social institutions: evolved cognition as the foundation of social norms"
- Thursday March 18th: Natalie Sebanz (Radboud), "Acting together: How people share actions, tasks, and memories"
- Tuesday April 27th: Tim Ingold (Aberdeen), "To learn is to improvise a movement along a way of life"
- Monday May 17th: Vanessa Fong (Harvard), "Transformations of Cultural Models as they Pass
from Parent to Child in a Globalized World: Evidence from Two Longitudinal Studies of Chinese Families"
- Monday May 24th: Rob Boyd (UCLA) - Monday May 24, "Culture as an evolutionary phenomenon"
- Thursday June 10th: Hannes Rakoczy (Gottingen), "The early ontogeny of collective intentionality and normativity"
- Wednesday June 16th: Rogers Brubaker (UCLA), "Doing things with categories: the cognitive
turn in the study of ethnicity"
- Wednesday June 30th: Lera Boroditsky (Stanford), "How do the languages we speak shape the way we think?"
- Category: Emma's blog
- Published on Wednesday, 09 December 2009 00:00
- Written by Emma Cohen
This is the first of what I hope will be a regular, informal interview slot, in which I put 3 questions to people who are researching in areas that may be of interest to ICCI members and readers. We hope you enjoy hearing from them. I haven’t asked interviewees to commit to post-interview discussion, though I’m hopeful that we’ll interview many of our own members. Your reactions and comments are always welcome. Thanks in advance to our interviewees!
Simon Baron-Cohen is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of Trinity College, and Director of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge. He is widely known for his work on Theory of Mind, empathy, and autism. He has coordinated and consulted on a wide range of educational and health programmes, including the DVD series, The Transporters, created especially for children with autism. A host of publications, current projects, and prizes are listed on his webpage.
What finding from your recent research has most excited you?
My research into the link between foetal testosterone (FT) and empathy has been keeping me pretty excited for a number of years, in part because it's so counter-intuitive. When we think of empathy we imagine all sorts of social factors might be influences, such as the quality of parenting you received as a child or the stability of your early family environment. I don't doubt that experience counts for a lot, but it has been eye-opening for me to see that FT levels measured in the amniotic fluid in the womb correlate significantly with later empathy levels in the child [see here]. My excitement for this research topic is driven by trying to understand how this molecule - a sex steroid hormone - could be involved in empathy.
The obvious answer is that the hormone is affecting brain development, so it was with great excitement that we put the children (whose FT levels were known) into the MRI brain scanner.
- Category: Call for Papers
- Published on Tuesday, 08 December 2009 00:22
- Written by Benoît Dubreuil
- Category: Pierre Jacob's blog
- Published on Monday, 07 December 2009 00:00
- Written by Pierre Jacob
This is the second post in a series of two installments by Pierre Jacob, dwelling on Gergely and Csibra's work on human communication. In Pierre's first post, we saw that these experiments show that, as suggested by relevance theory, human can detect communicative intentions quite early. Now Pierre turns to a second issue.
Natural pedagogy has also recently cast an interesting light onto the second question raised by Sperber and Wilson’s (1986) relevance approach to ostensive-inferential communication: to what extent is it distinctive of human cognition? Unlike great apes, domesticated dogs have co-evolved with humans for several thousand years. As a result and unlike great apes, they are widely believed to exhibit some understanding of human referential intentions expressed in communicative gestures, such as pointing (Hare and Tomasello, 2005). Range, Viranyi and Huber (2007) have adapted Gergely et al.’s (2002) paradigm to test the propensity of domestic dogs to engage in the selective imitation of a model’s behavior.
- Category: Publications
- Published on Sunday, 06 December 2009 00:00
- Written by Dan Sperber
In PLoS One, two researchers from the Duke Institute for Brain Science, Kamraan Z. Gill and Dale Purves, publish an article providing "A Biological Rationale for Musical Scales" and freely available here.
Abstract: Scales are collections of tones that divide octaves into specific intervals used to create music. Since humans can distinguish about 240 different pitches over an octave in the mid-range of hearing, in principle a very large number of tone combinations could have been used for this purpose. Nonetheless, compositions in Western classical, folk and popular music as well as in many other musical traditions are based on a relatively small number of scales that typically comprise only five to seven tones. Why humans employ only a few of the enormous number of possible tone combinations to create music is not known. Here we show that the component intervals of the most widely used scales throughout history and across cultures are those with the greatest overall spectral similarity to a harmonic series. These findings suggest that humans prefer tone combinations that reflect the spectral characteristics of conspecific vocalizations. The analysis also highlights the spectral similarity among the scales used by different cultures.
Read also the press release from the Duke Institute entitled "The Biological Link Between Music and Speech," reporting research showing that the musical scales most commonly used over the centuries are those that come closest to mimicking the physics of the human voice, and that we understand emotions expressed through music because the music mimics the way emotions are expressed in speech.
- Can you tell the language of the mother from her baby's cry?
- Death, where is thy sting ?
- Meeting: Culture evolves
- The scope of natural pedagogy theory (I): babies
- Cosma Shalizi on social contagion
- Some like it hot
- Language faculty? Semiotic system? Or what?
- Human expansion, drift, and cultural evolution
- Is the spell broken? Reflections on evolutionary debunking and religious beliefs
- Grounding the Social Sciences in the Cognitive Sciences?