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- 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.
- Category: Nicolas Claidière's blog
- Published on Thursday, 03 December 2009 00:00
- Written by Nicolas Claidière
This study provides the first evidence of the fact that newborns sound production is influenced by the language of their parents. From previous studies we knew that newborns prefer to hear language to which they have been exposed prenatally (e.g. DeCasper, A.J., and Fifer, W.P. (1980). "Of human bonding: Newborns prefer their mothers’ voices". Science 208, 1174–1176) and we also knew that infant's babbling is heavily influenced by the language of their caregivers (see the work by Bénédicte de Boysson-Bardies, e.g. B de Boysson-Bardies, L Sagart, C Durand (1984). Discernible differences in the babbling of infants according to target language. Journal of Child Language). Yet, babbling only starts at around 7 month of age and by that time infants have already learned specific features their mother tongue, they can already categorize vowels for instance. So it is quite a surprise to see that newborn's cries can be influenced by their mother tongue.
- Category: Pascal's blog
- Published on Tuesday, 01 December 2009 00:00
- Written by Pascal Boyer
I don’t believe any one of you would like to live in a room with a murdered man in the cupboard, however well preserved chemically – even with a sunflower growing out of the top of his head. - John Ruskin
Recently, Dan Sperber alerted us to ancedotal observations of grieving in non-human animals (see blog here - by the way, “anecdotal” is not derogatory here - our observations of grieving in humans are anecdotal too). Are the dead chimp’s compagnons as baffled and shaken by their friend and relative’s death as we would be?
We do not know.
In any case, bereavement in humans is difficult enough to describe and explain. This is an important topic for cognition and culture for many reasons - because it is of obvious interest to all human beings, because it is universal, because it is seemingly framed in such different ways in different places, and because the psychology is not well understood so far.
This used to be a topos for cultural anthropologists, who charted the many similarities in beliefs about death, and even more strikingly, the similarities in people’s ritualization of behaviour around death.
- Category: Events
- Published on Saturday, 28 November 2009 12:34
- Written by Nicolas Claidière
Discussion meeting organized by Andrew Whiten, Robert Hinde, Christopher Stringer and Kevin Laland as part of a wider Festival of Science to celebrate the Royal Society's 350th anniversary. The meeting will take place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre in London, UK on June 27-29, 2010.
Summary: The capacity for culture is a product of biological evolution - yet culture itself can also evolve, generating cultural phylogenies. This highly interdisciplinary joint meeting with the British Academy will address new discoveries and controversies illuminating these phenomena, from the roots of culture in the animal kingdom to human, cultural evolutionary trees and the cognitive adaptations shaping our special cultural nature.
Speakers: Confirmed speakers include Professor Luc-Alain Giraldeau, Dr Alex Thornton, Professor Susan Perry, Professor Carel van Schaik, Dr Simon Reader, Dr Dietrich Stout, Professor Naama Goren-Inbar, Professor Francesco d'Errico, Dr Marta Mirazon Lahr, Professor Stephen Shennan FBA, Professor Ruth Mace FBA, Professor Russell Gray, Dr Mark Collard, Dr Joe Henrich, Dr Luke Rendell, Professor Barry Hewlett, Dr Derek Lyons, Professor Gergely Csibra, Dr Hélène Roche, Professor Paul Harris FBA, Professor Andrew Whiten FBA and Professor Kevin Laland.
- Category: Pierre Jacob's blog
- Published on Friday, 27 November 2009 00:00
- Written by Pierre Jacob
This is the first post in a series of two installments by Pierre Jacob, dwelling on Gergely and Csibra's work on human communication.
According to Csibra and Gergely’s (2009) so-called “natural pedagogical” approach to the psychological bases of human culture, human infants are innately predisposed to automatically interpret what Sperber and Wilson (1986) call an agent’s “ostensive” behavioral stimuli as cues that the agent intends to make manifest to the child some relevant novel information. Thus, the natural pedagogical approach takes for granted Sperber and Wilson’s (1986) relevance-based concept of “ostensive-inferential communicative behavior”, which is defined as a (behavioral) stimulus produced by an agent whereby she makes it manifest to her audience that she intends, by means of this stimulus, to make manifest (or more manifest) to her audience a set of assumptions. Sperber and Wilson (1986) draw a basic distinction between an agent’s informative intention (to make some assumptions manifest to her audience) and an agent’s communicative intention to make her informative intention manifest. So on relevance-theoretic grounds, a communicative intention is itself a second-order informative intention: it is the intention to make manifest one’s first-order intention. Arguably, for someone to entertain a communicative intention is to intend another to represent one’s own informative intention. If so, then entertaining a communicative intention requires the ability to form a third-order meta-representation. In which case, representing another’s communicative intention requires the ability to form a fourth-order meta-representation.
Two outstanding open empirical issues generated by Sperber and Wilson’s (1986) relevance framework are: (i) to what extent is it psychologically plausible to credit young human infants with the ability to interpret another’s ostensive-inferential communicative behavior and ascribe to an agent, in accordance with relevance theory, a communicative intention? (ii) To what extent is ostensive-inferential communicative behavior specific to human cognition? Arguably, Csibra and Gergely’s natural pedagogy theory offers interesting new empirical insights into these two questions. In this post, I tackle the first question (that of communicative competence in infants). The second post will deal with the issue of human specificity.
- Category: Initiatives
- Published on Thursday, 26 November 2009 15:38
- Written by Olivier Morin
Statistician and polymath blogger Cosma Shalizi is preparing a paper on social contagion, basically dwelling on the fact that the transmission of behaviours through social influence ('contagion') is very hard to distinguish from the fact that similar people tend to be submitted to similar causal influences, and pair with people similar to themselves. Conversely, social contagion is easily mistaken for mere sociological determinism à la Bourdieu. All he's put online for the moment is a .ppt presentation - but a Powerpoint by Cosma Shalizi is worth a book by some others. Here.
- 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?
- “I read Playboy for the articles”
- FOXP2 again in the news
- Alloparental care and wandering baby monkeys
- Scott Atran: A memory of Lévi-Strauss
- Claude Lévi-Strauss has died