Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Communicative Mind Virtual Workshop

More details will appear here in the coming weeks.


February 4th 2022, 1-5:30 PM GMT​

1pm: Victoria Southgate (Copenhagen)

3pm: Katharina Helming (Warwick)

4pm: Roman Stengelin (MPI-EVA)

5pm: Extra discussion time

February 11th 2022, 1-5:30 PM GMT​

1pm: Stephen Butterfill (Warwick) ​

3pm: Charlotte Grosse Wiesmann (MPI-CBS)

4pm: Richard Moore (Warwick)

5pm: Extra discussion time

February 18th 2022, 1-5:30 PM GMT​

1pm: Cecilia Heyes (Oxford)

3pm: Julian Jara-Ettinger (Yale)

4pm: Paula Rubio Fernández (Oslo)

5pm: Extra discussion time

Abstracts and Titles

Victoria Southgate
Are infants altercentric? The other and the self in early social cognition
The classic view of early cognition is that it is egocentric, and that sufficient cognitive control is required to overcome an egocentric bias. However, this view is difficult to reconcile with data accumulated over the last decade, indicating that infants readily adopt others’ perspectives, and do so despite limited cognitive control. In this talk, I will present a radically different view of infant cognition in which infants are predominantly altercentric and biased to encode information that is the focus of others’ attention, even at the expense of their own perspective (Southgate, 2020, Psychological Review). I argue that an absence of self-representation facilitates altercentrism, and that the emergence of self-representation is key to declining altercentrism. I will present recent empirical studies from my lab in which we have been testing the various hypotheses derived from this account.

Katharina Helming
Recursive mindreading and the problem of coordinated attack
Coordination is a pervasive feature of uniquely human interactions. In pure coordination problems interaction partners mutually benefit from converging on the same amongst many possible (and often equally good) solutions. While theoretical analysis suggests that even such simple coordination problems should rely on recursive mindreading skills that are heavy in cognitive demands, everyday coordination such as jointly attending to an object or meeting up with a friend does not seem to involve the cognitive effort predicted by theory. Thus theoretical analysis and everyday psychology fall apart. The aim of this talk is to review evidence in different fields with a focus on pure coordination problems to investigate the question what active means people actually take to coordinate successfully.

Roman Stengelin
Tracing false-belief understanding among Hai||om children
Young children’s false-belief understanding varies across cultures, but the developmental drivers of such variation are currently debated. One variable put forward in this debate concerns cultural ethnotheories on children’s psychological autonomy: Children who are encouraged to appreciate and act based on their personal desires rather than social obligations are assumed to develop an understanding of false beliefs early in ontogeny. I will present data from three studies investigating the development of false-belief understanding in a society in which children’s psychological autonomy is strongly emphasized: the Hai||om of Northern-Central Namibia. As typical in forager societies, Hai||om children are free to navigate social interactions and activities based on their preferences. At the same time, child-centered pedagogy is low among the Hai||om. This allows us to mitigate this variable as a common confound in research on false-belief understanding. Our findings suggest considerable variation in children’s false-belief understanding across paradigms: While children often struggled when facing a standard verbal false-belief task (Study 1), they mastered a task with reduced processing demands at higher rates (Study 2). In a non-verbal false-belief task assessing the tendency to deceive and mistrust peer competitors, children showed a sophisticated, recursive understanding of their peers’ beliefs (Study 3). Based on these studies, I advocate for greater methodological flexibility in the cross-cultural study of children’s false-belief understanding and Theory of Mind more generally.

Stephen Butterfill

The myth of mindreading

The myth is that we as researchers can rely on a shared understanding of what we are talking about when we talk about intentional action or about mental states like knowledge, intention, desire, anger, surprise and the like. This is a myth of mindreading because on any standard view, the most sophisticated forms of everyday mindreading involve attributing these mental states. In this talk I will argue that the myth is untrue. I also will explore how we, as researchers, might achieve a shared understanding of intentional action, knowledge, intention and the rest.

The myth of mindreading is a practical problem facing developmental, comparative and philosophical theories of mindreading. As will be illustrated, when researchers appear to disagree about understanding knowledge or intention (for example), there seems to be no way of determining whether they are making incompatible claims about a single notion of knowledge or intention, or whether they are making compatible claims about different notions.

How can we turn the myth into truth? To achieve a shared understanding of intentional action, knowledge, and the rest we should first renounce folk psychology. Taking inspiration from available operationalizations, we should then borrow or construct a variety of incommensurable (and false) theories about minds and actions. Using these theories to anchor our understanding will enable us to apply the method of signature limits to generate testable predictions about what mindreaders understand of minds and actions.

Notes, references and slides will be posted hereLink opens in a new window before the talk

Charlotte Grosse Wiesmann
Early Theory of Mind development - how do infants represent their environment?
Theory of Mind (ToM) has traditionally been thought to develop around 4 years of age when children pass verbal false belief tasks. However, already infants younger than 2 years of age have been shown to be influenced by others’ false beliefs in so-called implicit ToM tasks. How do infants solve these tasks, when 3-year-olds still fail to verbally reason about false beliefs? I will present behavioral as well as neural evidence that infants’ success in the implicit ToM tasks relies on different processes than later-developing verbal false belief reasoning.

I will argue that mature verbal ToM reasoning requires holding two representations, one’s own and the other’s representation of the environment. It requires understanding which representation is a direct representation of the environment and which is the other’s representation by taking a meta-representational format. In contrast, non-verbal action predictions observed in infancy may be based on a single direct representation of the environment that is influenced by the other agent. More precisely, infants may represent things more vividly that have been cued by the attention of others. Consequently, their own representation of the environment may be biased in direction of what others’ have seen.

I will conclude by suggesting that our understanding of early cognitive development would benefit from moving to a more dynamic understanding of representations. Instead of a singular temporally stable and sharp representation of the environment, the mind may be characterized by an overlap of many representations of the same object or scene that only collapses to a singular sharp representation when explicitly accessed, for example through verbal or conscious retrieval.

Richard Moore
Learning (to learn) from others

In this talk I argue that two skills identified as central to human cognitive uniqueness - pointing and imitation - may result from a common underlying cognitive shift in human or late hominin history. While they are typically argued to be the result of independent adaptations for cooperative communication and high-fidelity social learning, I will suggest that there are relatively weak grounds for thinking they derived from independent biological changes rather than a single cultural or ecological change.

I will argue that the development of both pointing comprehension and imitation likely resulted from an ecological change in our ancestral environment, which led our ancestors to look to each other, rather than to their environment, as sources of information about the world. I'll explain why both ape emulation and pointing failure can be thought of as resulting from individualistic information gathering strategies, and sketch a scenario that would have made such strategies non-viable. I'll also present some empirical data collected by my collaborators and I, and argue that it supports a new explanation of why great apes are typically poor at pointing comprehension - one in line with the hypothesis I develop here.

Finally I'll argue that since both pointing and imitation have been trained with enculturation, they should not be assumed to result from biological adaptations in the hominin lineage. I'll discuss scenarios in which adaptive explanations ought not to be our first recourse for explaining cognitive development and, with reference to studies of dog and wolf cognition, I'll consider whether patterns of human social attention are likely to be the product of adapation

Cecilia Heyes
Rethinking norm psychology
Norms permeate human life. Most of our activities can be characterised by rules about what is appropriate, allowed, required, or forbidden – rules that play a crucial role in making us hyper-cooperative animals. This article examines the cognitive-evolutionary account of ‘norm psychology’, of the mental processes that enable normative behaviour, and proposes an alternative that is better supported by current evidence, and better placed to promote interdisciplinary dialogue about norms. The incumbent, nativist theory focusses on rules, and claims that humans genetically inherit cognitive and motivational mechanisms specialised for processing these rules. The cultural evolutionary alternative defines normativity in relation to behaviour – compliance, enforcement, and commentary – and suggests that it depends on implicit and explicit processes. The implicit processes are genetically inherited and domain-general; rather than being specialised for normativity, they do many jobs in many species. The explicit processes are culturally inherited and domain-specific; they are constructed from mentalising and reasoning by social interaction in childhood. The cultural evolutionary, or ‘gadget’, account implies that researchers should not merely chart cultural and developmental variation in normativity, but test whether that variation is due to nature (genetic factors), nurture (learning and social learning), and/or culture (cultural learning). More broadly, the cultural evolutionary perspective suggests that people alive today - parents, peers, educators, elders, politicians, lawyers – have more responsibility for sustaining normativity than the nativist view implies. Our actions don’t just shape and transmit the rules, they create in each new generation mental processes that can grasp the rules and put them into action.

Julian Jara-Ettinger
The social basis of referential communication
Human communication is an intrinsically social activity where we share our thoughts through sounds and movements. Accordingly, theoretical work has long argued that this capacity must rely on commonsense psychology—our ability to understand other people’s behavior in terms of unobservable mental states. Yet, classical empirical work suggests that the interaction between commonsense psychology and communication is surprisingly limited. In this talk, I will present advances in a computational framework that aims to clarify the relationship between commonsense psychology and language. In support of this framework, I will present two series of studies suggesting that traces of social reasoning appear even in one of the most basic forms of communication: reference. Moreover, these models diverge from, and systematically outperform, non-social communicative models that rely on an assumption of brevity in speech.

Paula Rubio Fernández
Cultural evolutionary pragmatics: Investigating the co-evolution of language and social cognition
Language and social cognition come together in communication, but their relation has been intensely contested. In this talk I will propose that these two distinctively human abilities are connected in a positive feedback loop, whereby the development of one cognitive skill boosts the development of the other. More specifically, I hypothesise that language and social cognition co-develop in ontogeny and co-evolve in diachrony through the acquisition, mature use and cultural evolution of reference systems (e.g., demonstratives: ‘this’ vs ‘that’; articles: ‘a’ vs ‘the’; pronouns: ‘I’ vs‘she’). An exploratory study of demonstrative use in six different languages (Mandarin Chinese, English, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian and Polish) illustrates how cross-linguistic differences and universals in reference systems may result in different developmental pathways to human socialcognition. I will discuss the evidence of attention monitoring in demonstrative use observed in all languages against the backdrop of great apes’ ability to adapt their communicative signals to a recipient's attentional state. I will conclude with a discussion of the cultural co-evolution of cognitive gadgets.

To register please send us an email at: