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March 27, 2017: Anika Fiebich: Pluralist Theory of Social Cognition

Alice meets Humpty Dumpty - The Victorian Web

Seminars of Philosophy of Language and mind


Anika Fiebich (Milano)

Pluralist Theory of Social Cognition


March 27, 2017, h. 10.30/12.30 a.m.

Room Enzo Paci, Directorate of Department of Philosophy  (Via Festa del Perdono 7, Milano)


The talk will be held in English.

Participation is strongly recommended to students of the Doctoral School in Philosophy and Human Sciences.

Attendance is free. All welcome.


abstract: In my talk, I will present a Pluralist Theory (PT) to the explanation of social understanding that integrates literature from social psychology with the theory of mind debate (Fiebich and Coltheart 2015; Fiebich 2015). There are two main schools in the contemporary debate that need to be mentioned here: (i) Theory Theory (TT), and (ii) Simulation Theory (ST). According to TT, we understand other minds by means of folk psychological theories. ST, in contrast, claims that we put ourselves imaginatively ‘into the shoes’ of another person and simulate the thoughts and feelings we would experience in his or her situation. Despite accounting for different social cognitive processes, TT and ST share the assumption that there is a default procedure that individuals typically apply whenever attempts are being made to understand other minds (e.g., theory according to TT, or simulation according to ST). PT, in contrast, argues that social understanding in everyday life is achieved in various ways. Social psychological studies from other domains such as economic games suggest that people may use various cognitive procedures to solve a mental task but typically make use of that procedure which is cognitively least effortful in a given context (see Kahneman 2011 for a discussion). I propose that the same holds true in the domain of social cognition (call this ‘fluency assumption’); rather than there being a default procedure of social understanding, people make use – as a rule of thumb – of those socio-cognitive processes and procedures that are cognitively least effortful to them in a given context. That is, ‘fluency’, which is defined as the “the subjective experience of ease or difficulty associated with completing a mental task” (Oppenheim 2008, p. 237), plays a central role in social cognition. I will exemplify the role of fluency in social cognition by referring to 4- to 5-year-olds use of different strategies in explicit versions of the true and false belief task (Fiebich 2014).Moreover, aside from theory and simulation that require understanding other people’s behaviour in terms of mental states, pluralistic accounts point to research from social psychology, which suggests that everyday social understanding may also rely on associations of behaviours with familiar agents, stereotypes, being sensitive to environmental contexts, norms, habits, and social conventions. Drawing on developmental research, I discuss the development of a variety of socio-cognitive processes and procedures throughout ontogeny, arguing that those that emerge at the beginning of ontogeny are the cognitively least effortful ones and continue to play a dominant role in everyday social understanding in adulthood (Fiebich, Gallagher, and Hutto, 2016). I conclude with discussing psychopathological research, illustrating that PT also trumps over traditional theories to account for the multifacetedness that autism spectrum disorder bears (Fiebich 2016).


12 March 2017
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