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Richard Menary: Did Social Cognition Culturally Evolve?

Lecture by Richard Menary (Macquarie), organized by the Department of Theoretical Philosophy

For some time now, the dominant theory of social cognition has been mindreading (or mentalizing); the ability to attribute mental states in order to explain and predict behaviour. The current state of the art is implicit mindreading: an inherited capacity for automatic and fast mentalizing.

However, implicit mindreading has come under pressure, for example the experiments that are supposed to support infant mindreading are problematic and alternative explanations are available. Cecelia Heyes has been at the forefront of these critiques. She has presented a powerful suite of arguments and analyses that show that infants don’t mind-read. She has also proposed that rather than an innate implicit mindreading mechanism, we inherit domain general mechanisms for statistical learning and sub-mentalizing.

We think that this is on the right track, but extend the analysis to include a broader range of routes to social understanding including: traits, dispositions, stereotypes, situations, norms and mindreading. In the final part of the talk we look at how this broader approach to social cognition could have culturally evolved, by arguing that human social competence is inherited from an evolved and complex social and cultural environment that is subject to innovation and change. The cultural environment includes various practices, norms, heuristics and other patterns of social interpretation that are acquired through scaffolded learning. This provides a gradualist evolutionary explanation of our social cognition without positing a great intellectual leap in our lineage.

When & where?

Wednesday 25 October 2017, 3.15-5pm
Room Omega

Last modified:05 October 2017 2.32 p.m.