Origins of Human Communication

Human communication is grounded in fundamentally cooperative, even shared, intentions. In this original and provocative account of the evolutionary origins of human communication, Michael Tomasello connects the fundamentally cooperative structure of human communication (initially discovered by Paul Grice) to the especially cooperative structure of human (as opposed to other primate) social interaction. Tomasello argues that human cooperative communication rests on a psychological infrastructure of shared intentionality (joint attention, common ground), evolved originally for collaboration and culture more generally. The basic motives of the infrastructure are helping and sharing: humans communicate to request help, inform others of things helpfully, and share attitudes as a way of bonding within the cultural group. These cooperative motives each created different functional pressures for conventionalizing grammatical constructions. Requesting help in the immediate you-and-me and here-and-now, for example, required very little grammar, but informing and sharing required increasingly complex grammatical devices. Drawing on empirical research into gestural and vocal communication by great apes and human infants (much of it conducted by his own research team), Tomasello argues further that humans’ cooperative communication emerged first in the natural gestures of pointing and pantomiming. Conventional communication, first gestural and then vocal, evolved only after humans already possessed these natural gestures and their shared intentionality infrastructure along with skills of cultural learning for creating and passing along jointly understood communicative conventions. Challenging the Chomskian view that linguistic knowledge is innate, Tomasello proposes instead that the most fundamental aspects of uniquely human communication are biological adaptations for cooperative social interaction in general and that the purely linguistic dimensions of human communication are cultural conventions and constructions created by and passed along within particular cultural groups.


Posted in Communication, Evolution, Human communication, Humans | Tagged , , ,

Why We Cooperate

Drop something in front of a two-year-old, and she’s likely to pick it up for you. This is not a learned behavior, psychologist Michael Tomasello argues. Through observations of young children in experiments he himself has designed, Tomasello shows that children are naturally–and uniquely–cooperative. Put through similar experiments, for example, apes demonstrate the ability to work together and share, but choose not to. As children grow, their almost reflexive desire to help–without expectation of reward–becomes shaped by culture. They become more aware of being a member of a group. Groups convey mutual expectations, and thus may either encourage or discourage altruism and collaboration. Either way, cooperation emerges as a distinctly human combination of innate and learned behavior.In Why We Cooperate, Tomasello’s studies of young children and great apes help identify the underlying psychological processes that very likely supported humans’ earliest forms of complex collaboration and, ultimately, our unique forms of cultural organization, from the evolution of tolerance and trust to the creation of such group-level structures as cultural norms and institutions.Scholars Carol Dweck, Joan Silk, Brian Skyrms, and Elizabeth Spelke respond to Tomasello’s findings and explore the implications.


Posted in Cooperation, Evolution | Tagged ,

The Power of Positive Emotions

In order for human beings to flourish, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson argues, we need to get essential daily nutrients—not only from food, but also from a laugh, a hug or even a smaller moment of positive emotion, especially with someone with whom we click.

Some key elements arise from the psychology subspecialties of relationship science and emotion science, Fredrickson said. The first science adds caring, or investment in another person for his or her own sake rather than for selfish ends, and “perceived responsiveness,” or the feeling that the other person understands, validates and cares for us- The second adds biobehavioral components (“emotions are embodied thoughts, equally affecting mind and body at the same time”); a view of caring as a series of moments, “not something you turn on and off like a toggle switch”; and a theory called “broaden and build,” which Fredrickson has developed. It holds that positive emotions serve to broaden people’s awareness; this, over time, builds enduring resources for living such as relationships and resilience.


Read also: Positivity

Turning Negative Thinkers Into Positive Ones

Posted in Emotions, Positive psychology, Social emotions | Tagged , ,

Workplace surveillance: an overview

This article attempts to review the proliferation of research findings about surveillance in the workplace and the issues surrounding it. It establishes a number of points of departure when considering the issue of workplace surveillance, before reviewing some of the more critical issues. First, it establishes that organizations and surveillance go hand in hand; and that workplace surveillance can take social and technological forms. Personal data gathering, Internet and email monitoring, location tracking, biometrics and covert surveillance are all areas of development. There is also evidence that groups of employees are appropriating information and communication technologies to stare back at their employers, exposing unsavoury practices and organizing collectively, prompting new thinking about resistance. Organizations watch employees primarily to protect their assets, although the nature and intensity of surveillance says much about how a company views its employees. Workplace surveillance has consequences for employees, affecting employee well-being, work culture, productivity, creativity and motivation. If no alternative can be found, managerial attention to task design, supervisory processes, employees’ expectations about monitoring, and an appraisal of the company’s operating e vironment can mediate its downsides. It is argued that in many ways the normality of workplace surveillance, and the prevalence of arguments about how to ‘do it better’, make it difficult to radicalize. As part of what is seen as ‘good’ management practice, it can confer benefits on the employee if conducted in a humane, balanced way, and is considered on a case-by-case – organization-by-organization – basis. However, the introduction of broader debates around information use, rights, power and social structure highlights how surveillance in the workplace may serve to perpetuate existing inequalities and create new ones


Posted in Surveillance, Workplace | Tagged ,

Reasons why Poverty Reduces Self-Control

When considering poverty, our national conversation often turns to its origins. It is natural for us to look for attributes of a person that led him or her to poverty, such as poor self-control. David Brooks of The New York Times, for instance, placed the blame on poor people’s lack of virtue. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Congressman Paul Ryan argues that poor people’s individual choices are at fault. Bad choices can certainly be a factor in poverty. But just because someone makes bad choices doesn’t mean they lack virtue or have no self-control. To the contrary, psychology research has discovered a variety of perfectly good reasons why poor people make the choices they do. These reasons explains how a smart, moral person can become trapped in a cycle of poverty.

Together, these reasons are enough for anyone to give up. But the point of this article is not to say that poverty is hopeless. Science has identified lots of ways to teach people how to become better at self-control. The key to helping people is not to blame them but instead to address the underlying factors that perpetuate poverty, especially early in life.


Posted in Decision making, Poverty | Tagged ,

Recent Theories of Civil Disobedience

A significant shift appears underway in contemporary thinking about civil disobedience. While liberal Anglophone philosophers in the 1960s and 1970s regularly underscored how politically motivated law-breaking could be interpreted as supportive of the rule of law, present-day scholarly accounts frequently depict conscientious illegality as potentially expressing what Martin Luther King, a key political inspiration behind much of the academic debate, dubbed the “very highest respect for the law.” The initially paradoxical intuition that nonviolent law-breaking is sometimes necessary to preserve the law, that it constitutes what John Rawls aptly described as “disobedience to law within the limits of fidelity to law,” tends to vanish from the purview of recent theorists of civil disobedience. For a surprising range of thinkers, it is now anachronistic. For radical critics, it is time to move beyond the “hairsplitting legalistic” orientation of the standard liberal model, which forecloses possibilities for creative protest and stands in the way of far-reaching change.4 For many others, it is simply a matter of recognizing that civil disobedience is best understood primarily as a conscientious moral challenge to the law. The final result, in an event, obscures civil disobedience’s identifiably legal contours.


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Make Strategic Thinking Part of Your Job

It’s a common complaint among top executives: “I’m spending all my time managing trivial and tactical problems, and I don’t have time to get to the big-picture stuff.” And yet when I ask my executive clients, “If I cleared your calendar for an entire day to free you up to be ‘more strategic,’ what would you actually do?” most have no idea. I often get a shrug and a blank stare in response. Some people assume that thinking strategically is a function of thinking up “big thoughts” or reading scholarly research on business trends. Others assume that watching TED talks or lectures by futurists will help them think more strategically.

How can we implement strategic thinking if we’re not even sure what it looks like?


Posted in Strategic thinking, Strategy, Thinking | Tagged , ,

Crowdsourced Science: Sociotechnical Epistemology in the e-Research Paradigm

Recent years have seen a surge in online collaboration between experts and amateurs on scientific research. In this article, we analyse the epistemological implications of these crowdsourced projects, with a focus on Zooniverse, the world’s largest citizen science web portal. We use quantitative methods to evaluate the platform’s success in producing large volumes of observation statements and high impact scientific discoveries relative to more conventional means of data processing. Through empirical evidence, Bayesian reasoning, and conceptual analysis, we show how information and communication technologies enhance the reliability, scalability, and connectivity of crowdsourced e-research, giving online citizen science projects powerful epistemic advantages over more traditional modes of scientific investigation. These results highlight the essential role played by technologically mediated social interaction in contemporary knowledge production. We conclude by calling for an explicitly sociotechnical turn in the philosophy of science that combines insights from statistics and logic to analyse the latest developments in scientific research.


Posted in crowdsourcing, Research, Research network | Tagged , ,

How to Do Social Science Without Data

With the death last month of the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman at age 91, the intellectual world lost a thinker of rare insight and range. Because his style of work was radically different from that of most social scientists in the United States today, his passing is an occasion to consider what might be gained if more members of our profession were to follow his example.

Mr. Bauman wrote scores of books and taught for many years at the University of Leeds, in England. He became a scholar to be reckoned with relatively late in his career. A major success came in 1989, at age 64, when he published a landmark study, “Modernity and the Holocaust.” Against the widespread view that the Holocaust reflected an anti-Semitic madness that had seized civilized Germany and thrown it back into an atavistic state, Mr. Bauman described the genocide as an all-too-characteristic creature of the modern era.


Posted in Data, Social sciences, Sociology | Tagged , ,

Recovering from disasters: Social networks matter more than bottled water and batteries

Standard advice about preparing for disasters focuses on building shelters and stockpiling things like food, water and batteries. But resilience – the ability to recover from shocks, including natural disasters – comes from our connections to others, and not from physical infrastructure or disaster kits. Almost six years ago, Japan faced a paralyzing triple disaster: a massive earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns that forced 470,000 people to evacuate from more than 80 towns, villages and cities. My colleagues and I investigated how communities in the hardest-hit areas reacted to these shocks, and found that social networks – the horizontal and vertical ties that connect us to others – are our most important defense against disasters.


Posted in Networked society, Social network | Tagged ,