Learning Sciences of Change

Learning Change Project: +6750 Posts in 8 Blogs

The Neuroscience of In-group Bias

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Racism and in-group favoritism is prevalent in our society and has been studied in Social Psychology for a long time. Recently it has become possible to investigate the neural mechanisms that underlie these in-group biases, and hence this review will give an overview of recent developments on the topic. Rather than relying on a single brain region or network, it seems that subtle changes in neural activation across the brain, depending on the modalities involved, underlie how we divide the world into ‘us’ versus ‘them’. These insights have important implications for our understanding of how in-group biases develop and could potentially lead to new insights on how to reduce them.

These insights also have implications for cultural and developmental differences between individuals. For example, people in cultures that score high on vertical collectivism see themselves as part of the collective but accept inequalities within the group while people in cultures that score high on horizontal collectivism also see themselves as part of the collective but see all members of the collective the same. Therefore it is likely that explicit and implicit neural correlates involved in perceiving others will be influenced by the cultural environment. In some cultures negative attitudes toward some individuals or out-groups might be more socially acceptable than in others, which would in turn modulate the individual’s executive control over his or hers in-group biases.

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Written by learningchange

September 3, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Minds as Social Institutions

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I will first discuss how social interactions organize, coordinate, and specialize as “artifacts,” tools; how these tools are not only for coordination but for achieving something, for some outcome (goal/function), for a collective work. In particular, I will argue that these artifacts specify (predict and prescribe) the mental contents of the participants, both in terms of beliefs and acceptances and in terms of motives and plans. We have to revise the behavioristic view of “scripts” and “roles”; when we play a role we wear a “mind.” No collective action would be possible without shared  and/or  ascribed mental contents. This is also very crucial for a central form of automatic mind-reading (mind ascription). Second, I will argue that often what really matters is the ascribed/prescribed, worn, mind not the real, private one. We have to play (like in the symbolic play) “as if” we had those mental contents. This social convention and mutual assumption makes the interaction work. The ascribed beliefs and goals are not necessarily explicitly there; they might be just implicit as inactive (we act just by routine and automatically) or implicit as potential. The coordination and social action works thanks to these “as if” (ascribed and pretended) minds, thanks to those conventional constructs. Our social minds for social interactions are coordination artifacts and social institutions.

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Written by learningchange

August 28, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Mind Change: How Digital Technologies are leaving their mark on Our Brains

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In Mind Change, Susan Greenfield discusses the all-pervading technologies that now surround us, and from which we derive instant information, connected identity, diminished privacy and exceptionally vivid here-and-now experiences. In her view they are creating a new environment, with vast implications, because our minds are physically adapting: being rewired. What could this mean, and how can we harness, rather than be harnessed by, our new technological milieu to create better alternatives and more meaningful lives? Using the very latest research, Mind Change is intended to incite debate as well as yield the way forward. There is no better person to explain the situation in a way we can understand, and to offer new insights on how to improve our mental capacities and well being. Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE is a Senior Research Fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford University. A scientist, writer, broadcaster and Cross-Bench member in the House of Lords, she specialises in applying neuroscience to fundamental issues such as the impact of 21st-century technologies on the mind, how the brain generates consciousness, and the development of innovative approaches to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

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Written by learningchange

August 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Tackling the Social Cognition Paradox through Multi-scale Approaches

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Recent debates regarding the primacy of social interaction versus individual cognition appear to be caused by the lack of an integrative account of the multiple scales at play. We suggest that reconciling individual autonomy and dyadic interactive viewpoints requires the taking into account of different time scales (e.g. development, learning) and levels of organization (e.g. genetic, neural, behavioral, social). We argue that this challenge requires the joint development of tools for two-body and second person neuroscience, along with the theoretical concepts and methods of coordination dynamics and systems biology. Such a research program may be particularly fruitful in deciphering complex socio-developmental diseases that are known to involve alterations on multiple levels.

Social interaction challenges the boundaries between the field of cognitive science and how to divide observations across distinct time scales and organizational levels. Social neuroscience is taking up this challenge at both theoretical and methodological levels. Here we have argued that three major dimensions are of potential significance: integrating a developmental perspective, investigating real-time social interaction with a two-body or second person neuroscience, and adopting a multi-scale approach through complex systems’ perspectives, in particular the concepts, methods and tools of coordination dynamics. These developments have already begun and should help further an understanding of disorders of social interaction such as autism.

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Written by learningchange

August 26, 2014 at 10:18 am

Cognitive Integration, Enculturated Cognition and the Socially Extended Mind

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Shaun Gallagher presents an interesting case for the social extension of mind. I argue that there is one way in which Gallagher can argue for social extension, which is continuous with an enculturated model of cognition, such as cognitive integration. This way requires us to think of the mind as extended by social/cultural practices that are specifically targeted at cognitive tasks. The other way in which Gallagher argues for social extension is that social institutions – such as museums or the law – are literal constituents of our minds. This second way involves a number of problems and objections and is inconsistent with an enculturated or practice based approach. I conclude by urging Gallagher to endorse the first way.

I have argued that the cognitive integration model shows why our minds are socially extended, by presenting a phylogenetic and ontogenetic model of how we develop cognitive capabilities. The key to this model is the notion of cognitive practices. I have also argued that Gallagher’s account of social extension is too synchronic and flirts with concepts such as supervenience, which do not help him to make his case. I have suggested that he stick to making the case in terms of cognitive practices, but then he needs a fuller account of such practices and how they are able to transform our capabilities. Fortunately the integrationist model has already done this job.

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Read also: The Socially Extended Mind

Written by learningchange

August 3, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Ontogenesis of the Socially Extended Mind

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I consider the developmental origins of the socially extended mind. First, I argue that, from birth, the physical interventions caregivers use to regulate infant attention and emotion (gestures, facial expressions, direction of gaze, body orientation, patterns of touch and vocalization, etc.) are part of the infant’s socially extended mind; they are external mechanisms that enable the infant to do things she could not otherwise do, cognitively speaking. Second, I argue that these physical interventions encode the norms, values, and patterned practices distinctive of their specific sociocultural milieu. Accordingly, not only do they enhance and extend the infant’s cognitive competence. They also entrain the infant to think and act in culturally appropriate ways. These physical interventions are thus arguably the earliest examples of social practices that scaffold the infant’s cognitive development and shape the development of their cultural education.

Gallagher and Vygotsky’s point still stands. In order to understand the development of mature forms of cognition—including social cognition—we must trace their ontogenetic development as it unfolds interpsychologically, that is, within the dynamics of social interaction, support by embodied skills, and embedded in encompassing mental institutions. Building on Gallagher’s analysis, this paper has considered the family as the earliest mental institution and, in so doing, briefly tried to shed light on the developmental origins of the socially extended mind.

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Read also: The Socially Extended Mind

Written by learningchange

August 3, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Extended mind

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The Frames of Cognition

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In his paper “Socially Extended Mind,” Shaun Gallagher aims to broaden the perspective of the philosophy of  cognitive science and to bring theoretical discussions to new grounds. However, I argue that such comprehensive attempt needs to be worked out and underpinned in more detail. I start by sketching the theoretical landscape, and continue by pointing out some ambiguities that are in need of further clarification. In the last part, I introduce a distinction between global and local frames of cognition and argue that the idea of a local frame can contribute to critical inquiry.

In several emerging approaches to the study of cognition, the idea of a non-arbitrary inner/outer distinction has come under attack. Mind and world are increasingly pictured as entangled, while the physical substrates that make up the mind are no longer assumed to be exclusively located in the brain and body of the individual. Positioning himself in this dynamic theoretical landscape, Shaun Gallagher aims to unite and develop claims by several ‘counterrevolutionary’ camps, to broaden the cognitive-scientific perspective and to contribute to critical social inquiry. However, in order to live up to these ambitious aims, a number of ambiguities have to be overcome and a number of issues have to be worked out in more detail. The suggestions and distinctions in this paper indicate ways in which some of these problems could be overcome.

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Read also:  The Socially Extended Mind

Written by learningchange

August 3, 2014 at 12:38 pm

The Socially Extended Mind

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This paper contrasts conservative and liberal interpretations of the extended mind hypothesis. The liberal view, defended here, considers cognition to be socially extensive, in a way that goes beyond the typical examples (involving notebooks and various technologies) rehearsed in the extended mind literature, and in a way that takes cognition to involve enactive processes (e.g., social affordances), rather than functional supervenience relations. The socially extended mind is in some cases constituted not only in social interactions with others, but also in ways that involve institutional structures, norms, and practices. Some of the common objections to the extended mind are considered in relation to this liberal interpretation. Implications for critical social theory are explored.

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Written by learningchange

August 3, 2014 at 12:18 pm