Learning Sciences of Change

Learning Change Project: 8 Blogs, 6910 Readings

Archive for the ‘Cognition’ Category

Collective Action and the Collaborative Brain

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Humans are unique both in their cognitive abilities and in the extent of cooperation in large groups of unrelated individuals. How our species evolved high intelligence in spite of various costs of having a large brain is perplexing. Equally puzzling is how our ancestors managed to overcome the collective action problem and evolve strong innate preferences for cooperative behaviour. Here, I theoretically study the evolution of social-cognitive competencies as driven by selection emerging from the need to produce public goods in games against nature or in direct competition with other groups. I use collaborative ability in collective actions as a proxy for social-cognitive competencies. My results suggest that collaborative ability is more likely to evolve first by between-group conflicts and then later be utilized and improved in games against nature. If collaborative abilities remain low, the species is predicted to become genetically dimorphic with a small proportion of individuals contributing to public goods and the rest free-riding. Evolution of collaborative ability creates conditions for the subsequent evolution of collaborative communication and cultural learning.

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

December 15, 2014 at 11:51 am

The Cognitive-Emotional Brain

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The idea that a specific brain circuit constitutes the emotional brain and its corollary, that cognition resides elsewhere, has shaped thinking about emotion and the brain for many years. Recent behavioral, neuropsychological, neuroanatomy, and neuroimaging research, however, suggests that emotion is integrated with cognition in the brain. In The Cognitive-Emotional Brain, I describe the many ways that emotion and cognition are fundamentally integrated throughout the brain. The book summarizes five areas of research that support this integrative view and makes four arguments to organize each area. (1) Based on rodent and human data, it is proposed that the amygdala’s functions go beyond emotion as traditionally conceived. Furthermore, the processing of emotion-laden information is capacity limited, thus not independent of attention and awareness. (2) Cognitive-emotional interactions in the human prefrontal cortex assume diverse forms and are not limited to mutual suppression. Particularly, the lateral prefrontal cortex is a focal point for cognitive-emotional interactions. (3) Interactions between motivation and cognition can be seen across a range of perceptual and cognitive tasks. Motivation shapes behavior in specific ways – for example, by reducing response conflict or via selective effects on working memory. Traditional accounts, by contrast, typically describe motivation as a global activation independent of particular control demands. (4) Perception and cognition are directly influenced by information with affective or motivational content in powerful ways. A dual competition model outlines a framework for such interactions at the perceptual and executive levels. A specific neural architecture is proposed that embeds emotional and motivational signals into perception and cognition through multiple channels. (5) A network perspective should supplant the strategy of understanding the brain in terms of individual regions. More broadly, in a network view of brain architecture, “emotion” and “cognition” may be used as labels of certain behaviors, but will not map cleanly into compartmentalized pieces of the brain.

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Read also: The Cognitive-Emotional Brain: From Interactions to Integration

Written by Giorgio Bertini

November 20, 2014 at 8:06 am

Posted in Brains, Cognition, Emotions

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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 Giorgio Bertini

August 3, 2014 at 12:46 pm

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 Giorgio Bertini

August 3, 2014 at 12:38 pm

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

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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 Giorgio Bertini

August 3, 2014 at 12:13 pm

The Cognitive Behavioral Miracle – Controlling your Emotions

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The principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are based on a very simple idea: we feel according to what we think, in other words, our thoughts and cognitive constructions are at the root of our emotions and behavior patterns. CBT is based on three fundamental propositions:

  • Cognitive activity affects behavior;
  • Cognitive activity may be monitored and altered; and
  • Desired behavior change may be effected through cognitive change.

CBT is a fundamentally empowering approach, in that it has successfully identified certain ways of thinking that can make the difference between sanity and insanity, between happiness and unhappiness, and it has developed a variety of techniques to teach patients to substitute these dysfunctional patterns of thinking, which are often at the root of their problems.

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

April 14, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Posted in Cognition, Emotions

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Cognitive Culture – theoretical and empirical insights into Social Learning Strategies

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Research into social learning (learning from others) has expanded significantly in recent years, not least because of productive interactions between theoretical and empirical approaches. This has been coupled with a new emphasis on learning strategies, which places social learning within a cognitive decision-making framework. Understanding when, how and why individuals learn from others is a significant challenge, but one that is critical to numerous fields in multiple academic disciplines, including the study of social cognition.

Clearly, the study of social learning strategies is a rapidly growing field with implications for multiple fields of research. The empirical studies reviewed here reveal the subtlety and complexity of the learning strategies used by humans. An important contribution of this work, in parallel with studies on non-humans, is to challenge the notion of a single best strategy, or a strategy associated with a particular type of individual, or species. Rather, recent work  emphasizes instead the way in which the flexible context-dependent use of a range of subtle biases is a general feature of social learning, in both humans and other animals. Infuture, this should inspire theoretical researchers in turn to take on the challenge of incorporating meta-strategies into their models.

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

April 5, 2014 at 10:39 am

Cognitive Abilities in Chimpanzees and Humans

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The purpose of the present study was to determine the efficacy of investigating spatial cognitive abilities across two primate species using virtual reality. In this study, we presented four captive adult chimpanzees and 16 humans (12 children and 4 adults) with simulated environments of increasing complexity and size to compare species’ attention to visuo‐spatial features during navigation. The specific task required participants to attend to landmarks in navigating along routes in order to localize the goal site. Both species were found to discriminate effectively between positive and negative landmarks. Assessing path efficiency revealed that both species and all age groups used relatively efficient, distance reducing routes during navigation. Compared to the chimpanzees and adult humans however, younger children’s performance decreased as maze complexity and size increased. Surprisingly, in the most complex maze category the humans’ performance was less accurate compared to one female chimpanzee. These results suggest that the method of using virtual reality to test captive primates, and in particular, chimpanzees, affords significant cross‐species investigations of spatial cognitive and developmental comparisons.

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

March 12, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Posted in Cognition, Humans

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