Learning Change

Learning Change Project

Cognitive Sociology and the Study of Human Cognition: A critical point

I base my paper on review of leading texts from the field of cognitive sociology with the attempt to compare the implicit notion of cognition with the conceptions elaborated in the field of cognitive science and allied disciplines (e.g. cognitive psychology, cognitive anthropology, cognitive science of religion, cognitive archeology etc.). I will refer mainly to Cerulo, DiMaggio, Vaughan, Wakefield and Zerubavel. The exemplar issues will be presented in the course of four steps. First, I problematize the notion of cognition limited merely to habituated behavioral forms related to specific local situations as presented in a study by Vaughan. Second, I discuss the excessive focus on local structures of meaning that are conceived as one of the goals of sociology of mind presented by Zerubavel. I point out the problematic position of sociology of mind, since it draws a substantial focus on intersubjectivity defined in contrast to cognitive individualism and universalism. I present this methodological stance in relation to interpretative program of social sciences. Consequently, I show that this type of cognitive theorizing casts vital doubts on results emerging from the field itself as well as on cross-disciplinary relevancy of that investigation. Viable forms of collaboration between cultural theorizing based on interpretative and descriptive methods and cognitive science will be explained throughout the paper as well as in its final conclusion.

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Written by learningchange

July 22, 2014 at 6:39 pm

Recognizing Group Cognition

In this paper, we approach the idea of group cognition from the perspective of the ‘‘extended mind’’ thesis, as a special case of the more general claim that systems larger than the individual human, but containing that human, are capable of cognition. Instead of deliberating about ‘‘the mark of the cognitive’’, our discussion of group cognition is tied to particular cognitive capacities. We review recent studies of group problem solving and group memory which reveal that specific cognitive capacities that are commonly ascribed to individuals are also aptly ascribed at the level of groups. These case studies show how dense interactions among people within a group lead to both similarity-inducing and differentiating dynamics that affect  the group’s ability to solve problems. This supports our claim that groups have organization-dependent cognitive capacities that go beyond the simple aggregation of the cognitive capacities of individuals. Group cognition is thus an emergent phenomenon in the sense of Wimsatt. We further argue that anybody who rejects our strategy for showing that cognitive properties can be instantiated at multiple levels in the organizational hierarchy on a priori grounds is a ‘‘demergentist,’’ and thus incurs the burden of proof for explaining why cognitive properties are ‘‘stuck’’ at a certain level of organizational structure. Finally, we show that our analysis of group cognition escapes the ‘‘coupling-constitution’’ charge that has been leveled against the extended mind thesis.

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Social Cognition in the We-Mode

According to many philosophers and scientists, human sociality is explained by the unique capacity to share the mental states of others. Shared intentionality has been widely debated in the past two decades in ways that also enlighten the current ‘interactive turn’ in social cognition. In this article, we examine the function and significance for interacting agents of sharing minds in an irreducibly collective mode called the ‘we-mode’. This first-person plural perspective captures the viewpoint of individuals engaged in social interactions and thus expands each individual’s potential for social understanding and action. This proposal shows that a nonreductionist, interaction-based approach can be developed that nevertheless resists recent suggestions concerning the constitutive role of interaction for social cognition. Our suggestion is that social cognition is embedded in the social environment to an extent that should be more carefully pondered and theorized by individualistic-minded scientists and philosophers alike.

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Written by learningchange

July 22, 2014 at 6:22 pm

The Social Life of the Brain: Neuroscience in Society

Neuroscience is viewed by a range of actors and institutions as a powerful means of creating new knowledge about ourselves and societies. This article documents the shifts in expertise and identities potentially being propelled by neuroscientific research. It details the framing and effects of neuroscience within several social domains, including education and mental health, discussing some of the intellectual and professional projects it has animated therein (such as neuroethics). The analysis attends to the cultural logic by which the brain is sometimes made salient in society; simultaneously, it points towards some of parameters of the territory within which the social life of the brain plays out. Instances of societal resistance and agnosticism are discussed, which may render problematic sociological research on neuroscience in society that assumes the universal import of neuroscientific knowledge (as either an object of celebration or critique). This article concludes with reflections on how sociotechnical novelty is produced and ascribed, and the implications of this.

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Written by learningchange

July 21, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Posted in Brains, Neuroscience, Society

Tagged with , ,

Social Brains, Simple Minds: does Social Complexity require Cognitive Complexity?

The social brain hypothesis is a well-accepted and well-supported evolutionary theory of enlarged brain size in the non-human primates. Nevertheless, it tends to emphasize an anthropocentric view of social life and cognition. This often leads to confusion between ultimate and proximate mechanisms, and an over-reliance on a Cartesian, narratively structured view of the mind and social life, which in turn lead to views of social complexity that are congenial to our views of ourselves, rather than necessarily representative of primate social worlds. In this paper, we argue for greater attention to embodied and distributed theories of cognition, which get us away from current fixations on ‘theory of mind’ and other high-level anthropocentric constructions, and allow for the generation of testable hypotheses that combine neurobiology, psychology and behaviour in a mutually reinforcing manner.

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Written by learningchange

July 21, 2014 at 9:19 pm

The Interplay of Cognition and Cooperation

Cooperation often involves behaviours that reduce immediate payoffs for actors. Delayed benefits have often been argued to pose problems for the evolution of cooperation because learning such contingencies may be difficult as partners may cheat in return. Therefore, the ability to achieve stable cooperation has often been linked to a species’ cognitive abilities, which is in turn linked to the evolution of increasingly complex central nervous systems. However, in their famous 1981 paper, Axelrod and Hamilton stated that in principle even bacteria could play a tit-for-tat strategy in an iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma. While to our knowledge this has not been documented, interspecific mutualisms are present in bacteria, plants and fungi. Moreover, many species which have evolved large brains in complex social environments lack convincing evidence in favour of reciprocity. What conditions must be fulfilled so that organisms with little to no brainpower, including plants and single-celled organisms, can, on average, gain benefits from interactions with partner species? On the other hand, what conditions favour the evolution of large brains and flexible behaviour, which includes the use of misinformation and so on? These questions are critical, as they begin to address why cognitive complexity would emerge when ‘simple’ cooperation is clearly sufficient in some cases. This paper spans the literature from bacteria to humans in our search for the key variables that link cooperation and deception to cognition.

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Written by learningchange

July 21, 2014 at 9:18 pm

The Teenage Brain: Peer Influences on Adolescent Decision Making

Research efforts to account for elevated risk behavior among adolescents have arrived at an exciting new stage. Moving beyond laboratory studies of age differences in risk perception and reasoning, new approaches have shifted their focus to the influence of social and emotional factors on adolescent decision making. We review recent research suggesting that adolescent risk-taking propensity derives in part from a maturational gap between early adolescent remodeling of the brain’s socio-emotional reward system and a gradual, prolonged strengthening of the cognitive-control system. Research has suggested that in adolescence, a time when individuals spend an increasing amount of time with their peers, peer-related stimuli may sensitize the reward system to respond to the reward value of risky behavior. As the cognitive-control system gradually matures over the course of the teenage years, adolescents grow in their capacity to coordinate affect and cognition and to exercise self-regulation, even in emotionally arousing situations. These capacities are reflected in gradual growth in the capacity to resist peer influence.

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Written by learningchange

July 21, 2014 at 9:16 pm

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