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Prof. H. Clark Barrett (UCLA) at the University of Edinburgh (April 28)

25th PPLS Interdisciplinary Seminar
Thursday 28th April, 1715 – 1900. Venue TBC.
University of Edinburgh.

Keynote: Prof. H. Clark Barrett (UCLA)
Title: Mindreading, morality, and the search for human cognitive specializations

Further event details:

The question of whether and how evolutionary processes have shaped the human mind is fraught with controversy. In particular, the question of whether humans have any uniquely derived cognitive specializations remains essentially unanswered, in part because of our inability to adjudicate between the many competing proposals in the literature. In this talk I will wade into this controversy and ask what strategies we might use to begin to try to sift through the plethora of hypotheses about specialized mental mechanisms in humans. As a case study, I will consider two abilities that have been proposed to be uniquely elaborated in humans: our capacity to make inferences about the thoughts and feelings of others, sometimes called “mindreading”, and our capacity of moral judgment, thought to be essential for forms of large-scale sociality that humans exhibit. Using data from cross-cultural studies of cognition, I will suggest that both of these abilities are likely to be uniquely elaborated in humans, that they are likely composed of multiple components, and that these components interact in complex ways that can be mixed and matched in different ways across situations, cultures, and individuals. I will use these observations about mindreading and morality to outline a strategy for refining the search for human cognitive specializations.