Cognitive Science Colloquium

Spring 2024

All meetings take place on Thursdays, 3.30-5.30 pm in HJ Patterson Building (HJP) room 2124, unless otherwise indicated.

February 1Christopher Krupenye (Psychological & Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins).

Title: The Social Minds of Humans and Other Apess
Abstract: The social world is extremely dynamic and awash with uncertainty. Yet, most of the time humans manage to navigate it fluidly. What sorts of cognitive representations do we generate to parse the social world, adeptly track social information, predict others’ behavior, and make strategic decisions? What is it about the way that humans do this, that makes us unique? Our closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, provide a powerful opportunity to investigate how minds very similar to our own (and to our common evolutionary ancestors) represent and navigate the world—in the absence of patterning by human culture and language. Through comparisons between humans and other apes, I explore the foundational cognitive mechanisms, and underlying representations, that shape human social life. In doing so, I also spotlight those components that uniquely define our species. This approach helps elucidate the cognitive underpinnings and evolutionary origins of human sociality, ranging from politics to morality. At the same time, it bears on broader questions that unite the cognitive sciences, concerning the origins of knowledge and the functioning of the human mind.

February 15Tania Lombrozo (Psychology, Princeton).

               [use: open link in new tab]


Title: Believing beyond the evidence

Abstract: The mathematician and philosopher W.K. Clifford famously wrote that “…it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.” While Clifford intended this as a normative stricture, it raises a question about human psychology: to what extent do people hold the beliefs of others to this standard? To what extent do people obey it in forming and evaluating their own beliefs? In this talk I'll present recent work from my lab investigating the extent to which people believe beyond the evidence, and moreover think they *should* believe beyond the evidence. Such cases seem to arise predominantly when moral considerations favor a belief for which the evidence is insufficient or even inconsistent - such as giving a friend the benefit of the doubt (out of loyalty) when evidence suggests they may be to blame, or believing in God in part because this belief is taken to have positive moral value. 

February 29Tal Linzen (Linguistics & Data Science, NYU).
Title: The role of language models in linguistics

Abstract: What should cognitive scientists make of the linguistic skills of systems like ChatGPT? I’ll start this talk with the somewhat disappointing answer “not as much as some people might think”. Fortunately, the remainder of the talk will be less bleak: I will show that the neural network architectures that these systems are based on can, in fact, be helpful in addressing debates in cognitive science, if used with care; I will focus on poverty of the stimulus arguments in language acquisition and the role of prediction in language comprehension.

March 14Roman Feiman (Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences, Brown).

Title: What even is a thought? How compositional semantics can inform psychology
Abstract: When we speak, we express thoughts. When others understand the meanings of our utterances, they think the thoughts that we expressed. While psychologists have long been interested in what thoughts are, linguists have made a lot of progress characterizing what utterances mean. In this talk, I'll argue for a methodology for psychologists who are interested in thinking: take up linguists' formal theories of meaning as candidate computational-level descriptions of thought. I will share experimental work that takes this approach, showing how this view of thought can shed new light on long-standing debates in psychology: whether logical reasoning is natural, how children learn words, and whether thought precedes or co-develops with language.

March 28Liz Spelke (Psychology, Harvard).


April 11Weiji Ma (Psychology, NYU).

Title: Expertise increases planning depth in human game play.
Abstract: There is a link to this paper: here

April 25Tanya Lurhmann (Anthropology, Stanford). [CANCELLED]

               [use: open link in new tab]