Publications by authors named "Joshua Knobe"

42 Publications

Value-based essentialism: Essentialist beliefs about social groups with shared values.

J Exp Psychol Gen 2021 Sep 13. Epub 2021 Sep 13.

School of Management.

Psychological essentialism has played an important role in social psychology, informing influential theories of stereotyping and prejudice as well as questions about wrongdoers' accountability and their ability to change. In the existing literature, essentialism is often tied to beliefs in shared biology-that is, the extent to which members of a social group are seen as having the same underlying biological features. Here we investigate the possibility of "value-based essentialism" in which people think of certain social groups in terms of an underlying essence, but that essence is understood as a value. Study 1 explored beliefs about a wide range of social groups and found that both groups with shared biology (e.g., women) and shared values (e.g., hippies) elicited similar general essentialist beliefs relative to more incidental social categories (e.g., English-speakers). In Studies 2-4, participants who read about a group either as being based in biology or in values reported higher general essentialist beliefs compared with a control condition. Because biological essences about social groups have been connected to a number of downstream consequences, we also investigated two test cases concerning value-based essentialism. In Study 3, beliefs about both shared biology and shared values increased inductive generalizations about the social group relative to control, but in Study 4, only the shared biology condition reduced blame for wrongdoing. Together these findings join with recent work to support a broader theoretical framework of essentialism about social groups that can be arrived at through multiple pathways, including, in the present case, shared values. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000822DOI Listing
September 2021

Knowledge before Belief.

Behav Brain Sci 2020 Sep 8:1-37. Epub 2020 Sep 8.

Program in Cognitive Science; Department of Philosophy, Yale University Email: Homepage: https://campuspress.yale.edu/joshuaknobe/.

Research on the capacity to understand others' minds has tended to focus on representations of beliefs, which are widely taken to be among the most central and basic theory of mind representations. Representations of knowledge, by contrast, have received comparatively little attention and have often been understood as depending on prior representations of belief. After all, how could one represent someone as knowing something if one doesn't even represent them as believing it? Drawing on a wide range of methods across cognitive science, we ask whether belief or knowledge is the more basic kind of representation. The evidence indicates that non-human primates attribute knowledge but not belief, that knowledge representations arise earlier in human development than belief representations, that the capacity to represent knowledge may remain intact in patient populations even when belief representation is disrupted, that knowledge (but not belief) attributions are likely automatic, and that explicit knowledge attributions are made more quickly than equivalent belief attributions. Critically, the theory of mind representations uncovered by these various methods exhibit a set of signature features clearly indicative of knowledge: they are not modality-specific, they are factive, they are not just true belief, and they allow for representations of egocentric ignorance. We argue that these signature features elucidate the primary function of knowledge representation: facilitating learning from others about the external world. This suggests a new way of understanding theory of mind-one that is focused on understanding others' minds in relation to the actual world, rather than independent from it.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X20000618DOI Listing
September 2020

Autonomy in consumer choice.

Mark Lett 2020 Jun 8:1-11. Epub 2020 Jun 8.

Arison School of Business, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Herzliya, Israel.

We propose that autonomy is a crucial aspect of consumer choice. We offer a definition that situates autonomy among related constructs in philosophy and psychology, contrast actual with perceived autonomy in consumer contexts, examine the resilience of perceived autonomy, and sketch out an agenda for research into the role of perceived autonomy in an evolving marketplace increasingly characterized by automation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11002-020-09521-zDOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7278769PMC
June 2020

Kindhood and essentialism: Evidence from language.

Adv Child Dev Behav 2020 10;59:133-164. Epub 2020 Jun 10.

Program in Cognitive Science & Department of Philosophy, Yale University, New Haven, CT, United States.

A large body of existing research suggests that people think very differently about categories that are seen as kinds (e.g., women) and categories that are not seen as kinds (e.g., people hanging out in the park right now). Drawing on work in linguistics, we suggest that people represent these two sorts of categories using fundamentally different representational formats. Categories that are not seen as kinds are simply represented as collections of individuals. By contrast, when it comes to kinds, people have two distinct representations: a representation of a collection of individual people and a representation of the kind itself. The distinction between these two representational formats helps to shed light on otherwise puzzling findings about stereotyping and essentialism. Stereotyping appears to involve a representation of a collection of people, while essentialism involves a representation of a kind itself.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/bs.acdb.2020.05.005DOI Listing
June 2021

Happiness is from the soul: The nature and origins of our happiness concept.

J Exp Psychol Gen 2021 Feb 18;150(2):276-288. Epub 2020 Jun 18.

Department of Psychology.

What is happiness? Is happiness about feeling good or about being good? Across 5 studies, we explored the nature and origins of our happiness concept developmentally and cross-linguistically. We found that surprisingly, children as young as age 4 viewed morally bad people as less happy than morally good people, even if the characters all have positive subjective states (Study 1). Moral character did not affect attributions of physical traits (Study 2) and was more powerfully weighted than subjective states in attributions of happiness (Study 3). Moreover, moral character but not intelligence influenced children and adults' happiness attributions (Study 4). Finally, Chinese people responded similarly when attributing happiness with 2 words, despite one ("Gao Xing") being substantially more descriptive than the other ("Kuai Le") (Study 5). Therefore, we found that moral judgment plays a relatively unique role in happiness attributions, which is surprisingly early emerging and largely independent of linguistic and cultural influences, and thus likely reflects a fundamental cognitive feature of the mind. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000790DOI Listing
February 2021

What comes to mind?

Cognition 2020 01 26;194:104057. Epub 2019 Sep 26.

Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, United States.

When solving problems, like making predictions or choices, people often "sample" possibilities into mind. Here, we consider whether there is structure to the kinds of thoughts people sample by default-that is, without an explicit goal. Across three experiments we found that what comes to mind by default are samples from a probability distribution that combines what people think is likely and what they think is good. Experiment 1 found that the first quantities that come to mind for everyday behaviors and events are quantities that combine what is average and ideal. Experiment 2 found, in a manipulated context, that the distribution of numbers that come to mind resemble the mathematical product of the presented statistical distribution and a (softmax-transformed) prescriptive distribution. Experiment 3 replicated these findings in a visual domain. These results provide insight into the process generating people's conscious thoughts and invite new questions about the value of thinking about things that are both likely and good.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2019.104057DOI Listing
January 2020

A counterfactual explanation for the action effect in causal judgment.

Cognition 2019 09 11;190:157-164. Epub 2019 May 11.

Program in Cognitive Science and Department of Philosophy, Yale University, United States. Electronic address:

People's causal judgments are susceptible to the action effect, whereby they judge actions to be more causal than inactions. We offer a new explanation for this effect, the counterfactual explanation: people judge actions to be more causal than inactions because they are more inclined to consider the counterfactual alternatives to actions than to consider counterfactual alternatives to inactions. Experiment 1a conceptually replicates the original action effect for causal judgments. Experiment 1b confirms a novel prediction of the new explanation, the reverse action effect, in which people judge inactions to be more causal than actions in overdetermination cases. Experiment 2 directly compares the two effects in joint-causation and overdetermination scenarios and conceptually replicates them with new scenarios. Taken together, these studies provide support for the new counterfactual explanation for the action effect in causal judgment.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2019.05.006DOI Listing
September 2019

The True Self: A Psychological Concept Distinct From the Self.

Perspect Psychol Sci 2017 07 3;12(4):551-560. Epub 2017 Jul 3.

Yale University.

A long tradition of psychological research has explored the distinction between characteristics that are part of the self and those that lie outside of it. Recently, a surge of research has begun examining a further distinction. Even among characteristics that are internal to the self, people pick out a subset as belonging to the true self. These factors are judged as making people who they really are, deep down. In this paper, we introduce the concept of the true self and identify features that distinguish people's understanding of the true self from their understanding of the self more generally. In particular, we consider recent findings that the true self is perceived as positive and moral and that this tendency is actor-observer invariant and cross-culturally stable. We then explore possible explanations for these findings and discuss their implications for a variety of issues in psychology.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1745691616689495DOI Listing
July 2017

Consistent Belief in a Good True Self in Misanthropes and Three Interdependent Cultures.

Cogn Sci 2018 05 6;42 Suppl 1:134-160. Epub 2017 Jun 6.

Department of Philosophy, and Program in Cognitive Science, Yale University.

People sometimes explain behavior by appealing to an essentialist concept of the self, often referred to as the true self. Existing studies suggest that people tend to believe that the true self is morally virtuous; that is deep inside, every person is motivated to behave in morally good ways. Is this belief particular to individuals with optimistic beliefs or people from Western cultures, or does it reflect a widely held cognitive bias in how people understand the self? To address this question, we tested the good true self theory against two potential boundary conditions that are known to elicit different beliefs about the self as a whole. Study 1 tested whether individual differences in misanthropy-the tendency to view humans negatively-predict beliefs about the good true self in an American sample. The results indicate a consistent belief in a good true self, even among individuals who have an explicitly pessimistic view of others. Study 2 compared true self-attributions across cultural groups, by comparing samples from an independent country (USA) and a diverse set of interdependent countries (Russia, Singapore, and Colombia). Results indicated that the direction and magnitude of the effect are comparable across all groups we tested. The belief in a good true self appears robust across groups varying in cultural orientation or misanthropy, suggesting a consistent psychological tendency to view the true self as morally good.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12505DOI Listing
May 2018

The effect of abstract versus concrete framing on judgments of biological and psychological bases of behavior.

Cogn Res Princ Implic 2017 20;2(1):17. Epub 2017 Mar 20.

Department of Philosophy, Yale University, 344 College Street, New Haven, CT 06511 USA.

Human behavior is frequently described both in abstract, general terms and in concrete, specific terms. We asked whether these two ways of framing equivalent behaviors shift the inferences people make about the biological and psychological bases of those behaviors. In five experiments, we manipulated whether behaviors are presented concretely (i.e. with reference to a specific person, instantiated in the particular context of that person's life) or abstractly (i.e. with reference to a category of people or behaviors across generalized contexts). People judged concretely framed behaviors to be less biologically based and, on some dimensions, more psychologically based than the same behaviors framed in the abstract. These findings held true for both mental disorders (Experiments 1 and 2) and everyday behaviors (Experiments 4 and 5), and yielded downstream consequences for the perceived efficacy of disorder treatments (Experiment 3). Implications for science educators, students of science, and members of the lay public are discussed.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s41235-017-0056-5DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5357666PMC
March 2017

Normality and actual causal strength.

Cognition 2017 04 1;161:80-93. Epub 2017 Feb 1.

Program in Cognitive Science and Department of Philosophy, Yale University, United States.

Existing research suggests that people's judgments of actual causation can be influenced by the degree to which they regard certain events as normal. We develop an explanation for this phenomenon that draws on standard tools from the literature on graphical causal models and, in particular, on the idea of probabilistic sampling. Using these tools, we propose a new measure of actual causal strength. This measure accurately captures three effects of normality on causal judgment that have been observed in existing studies. More importantly, the measure predicts a new effect ("abnormal deflation"). Two studies show that people's judgments do, in fact, show this new effect. Taken together, the patterns of people's causal judgments thereby provide support for the proposed explanation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2017.01.010DOI Listing
April 2017

True happiness: The role of morality in the folk concept of happiness.

J Exp Psychol Gen 2017 Feb;146(2):165-181

Program in Cognitive Science, Yale University.

Recent scientific research has settled on a purely descriptive definition of happiness that is focused solely on agents' psychological states (high positive affect, low negative affect, high life satisfaction). In contrast to this understanding, recent research has suggested that the ordinary concept of happiness is also sensitive to the moral value of agents' lives. Five studies systematically investigate and explain the impact of morality on ordinary assessments of happiness. Study 1 demonstrates that moral judgments influence assessments of happiness not only for untrained participants, but also for academic researchers and even in those who study happiness specifically. Studies 2 and 3 then respectively ask whether this effect may be explained by general motivational biases or beliefs in a just world. In both cases, we find evidence against these explanations. Study 4 shows that the impact of moral judgments cannot be explained by changes in the perception of descriptive psychological states. Finally, Study 5 compares the impact of moral and nonmoral value, and provides evidence that unlike nonmoral value, moral value is part of the criteria that govern the ordinary concept of happiness. Taken together, these studies provide a specific explanation of how and why the ordinary concept of happiness deviates from the definition used by researchers studying happiness. (PsycINFO Database Record
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000252DOI Listing
February 2017

Differences in the Evaluation of Generic Statements About Human and Non-Human Categories.

Cogn Sci 2017 Sep 4;41(7):1934-1957. Epub 2016 Nov 4.

Department of Psychology, Yale University.

Generic statements (e.g., "Birds lay eggs") express generalizations about categories. Current theories suggest that people should be especially inclined to accept generics that involve threatening information. However, previous tests of this claim have focused on generics about non-human categories, which raises the question of whether this effect applies as readily to human categories. In Experiment 1, adults were more likely to accept generics involving a threatening (vs. a non-threatening) property for artifacts, but this negativity bias did not also apply to human categories. Experiment 2 examined an alternative hypothesis for this result, and Experiments 3 and 4 served as conceptual replications of the first experiment. Experiment 5 found that even preschoolers apply generics differently for humans and artifacts. Finally, Experiment 6 showed that these effects reflect differences between human and non-human categories more generally, as adults showed a negativity bias for categories of non-human animals, but not for categories of humans. These findings suggest the presence of important, early-emerging domain differences in people's judgments about generics.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12440DOI Listing
September 2017

Normality: Part descriptive, part prescriptive.

Cognition 2017 10 11;167:25-37. Epub 2016 Nov 11.

Program in Cognitive Science, Yale University, United States; Department of Philosophy, Yale University, United States.

People's beliefs about normality play an important role in many aspects of cognition and life (e.g., causal cognition, linguistic semantics, cooperative behavior). But how do people determine what sorts of things are normal in the first place? Past research has studied both people's representations of statistical norms (e.g., the average) and their representations of prescriptive norms (e.g., the ideal). Four studies suggest that people's notion of normality incorporates both of these types of norms. In particular, people's representations of what is normal were found to be influenced both by what they believed to be descriptively average and by what they believed to be prescriptively ideal. This is shown across three domains: people's use of the word "normal" (Study 1), their use of gradable adjectives (Study 2), and their judgments of concept prototypicality (Study 3). A final study investigated the learning of normality for a novel category, showing that people actively combine statistical and prescriptive information they have learned into an undifferentiated notion of what is normal (Study 4). Taken together, these findings may help to explain how moral norms impact the acquisition of normality and, conversely, how normality impacts the acquisition of moral norms.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2016.10.024DOI Listing
October 2017

The Influence of Social Interaction on Intuitions of Objectivity and Subjectivity.

Cogn Sci 2017 May 1;41(4):1119-1134. Epub 2016 Jun 1.

Department of Psychology, Yale University.

We present experimental evidence that people's modes of social interaction influence their construal of truth. Participants who engaged in cooperative interactions were less inclined to agree that there was an objective truth about that topic than were those who engaged in a competitive interaction. Follow-up experiments ruled out alternative explanations and indicated that the changes in objectivity are explained by argumentative mindsets: When people are in cooperative arguments, they see the truth as more subjective. These findings can help inform research on moral objectivism and, more broadly, on the distinctive cognitive consequences of different types of social interaction.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12380DOI Listing
May 2017

Normative Judgments and Individual Essence.

Cogn Sci 2017 Apr 14;41 Suppl 3:382-402. Epub 2016 Mar 14.

Department of Philosophy, Yale University.

A growing body of research has examined how people judge the persistence of identity over time-that is, how they decide that a particular individual is the same entity from one time to the next. While a great deal of progress has been made in understanding the types of features that people typically consider when making such judgments, to date, existing work has not explored how these judgments may be shaped by normative considerations. The present studies demonstrate that normative beliefs do appear to play an important role in people's beliefs about persistence. Specifically, people are more likely to judge that the identity of a given entity (e.g., a hypothetical nation) remains the same when its features improve (e.g., the nation becomes more egalitarian) than when its features deteriorate (e.g., the nation becomes more discriminatory). Study 1 provides a basic demonstration of this effect. Study 2 shows that this effect is moderated by individual differences in normative beliefs. Study 3 examines the underlying mechanism, which is the belief that, in general, various entities are essentially good. Study 4 directly manipulates beliefs about essence to show that the positivity bias regarding essences is causally responsible for the effect.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12364DOI Listing
April 2017

The influence of framing on clinicians' judgments of the biological basis of behaviors.

J Exp Psychol Appl 2016 Mar 14;22(1):39-47. Epub 2015 Dec 14.

Department of Philosophy, Yale University.

Practicing clinicians frequently think about behaviors both abstractly (i.e., in terms of symptoms, as in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed., DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) and concretely (i.e., in terms of individual clients, as in DSM-5 Clinical Cases; Barnhill, 2013). Does abstract/concrete framing influence clinical judgments about behaviors? Practicing mental health clinicians (N = 74) were presented with hallmark symptoms of 6 disorders framed abstractly versus concretely, and provided ratings of their biological and psychological bases (Experiment 1) and the likely effectiveness of medication and psychotherapy in alleviating them (Experiment 2). Clinicians perceived behavioral symptoms in the abstract to be more biologically and less psychologically based than when concretely described, and medication was viewed as more effective for abstractly than concretely described symptoms. These findings suggest a possible basis for miscommunication and misalignment of views between primarily research-oriented and primarily practice-oriented clinicians; furthermore, clinicians may accept new neuroscience research more strongly in the abstract than for individual clients.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xap0000070DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4783223PMC
March 2016

What Do People Find Incompatible With Causal Determinism?

Cogn Sci 2016 11 21;40(8):2025-2049. Epub 2015 Oct 21.

Program in Cognitive Science, Yale University.

Four studies explored people's judgments about whether particular types of behavior are compatible with determinism. Participants read a passage describing a deterministic universe, in which everything that happens is fully caused by whatever happened before it. They then assessed the degree to which different behaviors were possible in such a universe. Other participants evaluated the extent to which each of these behaviors had various features (e.g., requiring reasoning). We assessed the extent to which these features predicted judgments about whether the behaviors were possible in a deterministic universe. Experiments 1 and 2 found that people's judgments about whether a behavior was compatible with determinism were not predicted by their judgments about whether that behavior relies on physical processes in the brain and body, is uniquely human, is unpredictable, or involves reasoning. Experiment 3, however, found that a distinction between what we call "active" and "passive" behaviors can explain people's judgments. Experiment 4 extended these findings, showing that we can measure this distinction in several ways and that it is robustly predicted by two different cues. Taken together, these results suggest that people carve up mentally guided behavior into two distinct types-understanding one type to be compatible with determinism, but another type to be fundamentally incompatible with determinism.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12314DOI Listing
November 2016

Unifying morality's influence on non-moral judgments: The relevance of alternative possibilities.

Cognition 2015 Dec 21;145:30-42. Epub 2015 Aug 21.

Yale University, United States.

Past work has demonstrated that people's moral judgments can influence their judgments in a number of domains that might seem to involve straightforward matters of fact, including judgments about freedom, causation, the doing/allowing distinction, and intentional action. The present studies explore whether the effect of morality in these four domains can be explained by changes in the relevance of alternative possibilities. More precisely, we propose that moral judgment influences the degree to which people regard certain alternative possibilities as relevant, which in turn impacts intuitions about freedom, causation, doing/allowing, and intentional action. Employing the stimuli used in previous research, Studies 1a, 2a, 3a, and 4a show that the relevance of alternatives is influenced by moral judgments and mediates the impact of morality on non-moral judgments. Studies 1b, 2b, 3b, and 4b then provide direct empirical evidence for the link between the relevance of alternatives and judgments in these four domains by manipulating (rather than measuring) the relevance of alternative possibilities. Lastly, Study 5 demonstrates that the critical mechanism is not whether alternative possibilities are considered, but whether they are regarded as relevant. These studies support a unified framework for understanding the impact of morality across these very different kinds of judgments.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2015.08.001DOI Listing
December 2015

Causal superseding.

Cognition 2015 Apr 17;137:196-209. Epub 2015 Feb 17.

Yale University, United States.

When agents violate norms, they are typically judged to be more of a cause of resulting outcomes. In this paper, we suggest that norm violations also affect the causality attributed to other agents, a phenomenon we refer to as "causal superseding." We propose and test a counterfactual reasoning model of this phenomenon in four experiments. Experiments 1 and 2 provide an initial demonstration of the causal superseding effect and distinguish it from previously studied effects. Experiment 3 shows that this causal superseding effect is dependent on a particular event structure, following a prediction of our counterfactual model. Experiment 4 demonstrates that causal superseding can occur with violations of non-moral norms. We propose a model of the superseding effect based on the idea of counterfactual sufficiency.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2015.01.013DOI Listing
April 2015

Philosophers are doing something different now: quantitative data.

Authors:
Joshua Knobe

Cognition 2015 Feb 28;135:36-8. Epub 2014 Nov 28.

Program in Cognitive Science and Department of Philosophy, Yale University, United States. Electronic address:

The philosophical study of mind in the twentieth century was dominated by a research program that used a priori methods to address foundational questions. Since that time, however, the philosophical study of mind has undergone a dramatic shift. To provide a more accurate picture of contemporary philosophical work, I compared a sample of highly cited philosophy papers from the past five years with a sample of highly cited philosophy papers from the twentieth century. In the twentieth century sample, the majority of papers used purely a priori methods, while only a minority cited results from empirical studies. In the sample from the past five years, the methodology is radically different. The majority of papers cite results from empirical studies, a sizable proportion report original experimental results, and only a small minority are purely a priori. Overall, the results of the review suggest that the philosophical study of mind has become considerably more integrated into the broader interdisciplinary field of cognitive science.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2014.11.011DOI Listing
February 2015

The neural bases of directed and spontaneous mental state attributions to group agents.

PLoS One 2014 20;9(8):e105341. Epub 2014 Aug 20.

Program in Cognitive Science, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, United States of America.

In daily life, perceivers often need to predict and interpret the behavior of group agents, such as corporations and governments. Although research has investigated how perceivers reason about individual members of particular groups, less is known about how perceivers reason about group agents themselves. The present studies investigate how perceivers understand group agents by investigating the extent to which understanding the 'mind' of the group as a whole shares important properties and processes with understanding the minds of individuals. Experiment 1 demonstrates that perceivers are sometimes willing to attribute a mental state to a group as a whole even when they are not willing to attribute that mental state to any of the individual members of the group, suggesting that perceivers can reason about the beliefs and desires of group agents over and above those of their individual members. Experiment 2 demonstrates that the degree of activation in brain regions associated with attributing mental states to individuals--i.e., brain regions associated with mentalizing or theory-of-mind, including the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), and precuneus--does not distinguish individual from group targets, either when reading statements about those targets' mental states (directed) or when attributing mental states implicitly in order to predict their behavior (spontaneous). Together, these results help to illuminate the processes that support understanding group agents themselves.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0105341PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4139375PMC
May 2015

Syntax and intentionality: an automatic link between language and theory-of-mind.

Cognition 2014 Oct 21;133(1):249-61. Epub 2014 Jul 21.

Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.

Three studies provided evidence that syntax influences intentionality judgments. In Experiment 1, participants made either speeded or unspeeded intentionality judgments about ambiguously intentional subjects or objects. Participants were more likely to judge grammatical subjects as acting intentionally in the speeded relative to the reflective condition (thus showing an intentionality bias), but grammatical objects revealed the opposite pattern of results (thus showing an unintentionality bias). In Experiment 2, participants made an intentionality judgment about one of the two actors in a partially symmetric sentence (e.g., "John exchanged products with Susan"). The results revealed a tendency to treat the grammatical subject as acting more intentionally than the grammatical object. In Experiment 3 participants were encouraged to think about the events that such sentences typically refer to, and the tendency was significantly reduced. These results suggest a privileged relationship between language and central theory-of-mind concepts. More specifically, there may be two ways of determining intentionality judgments: (1) an automatic verbal bias to treat grammatical subjects (but not objects) as intentional (2) a deeper, more careful consideration of the events typically described by a sentence.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2014.05.021DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4134412PMC
October 2014

Beliefs about the true self explain asymmetries based on moral judgment.

Cogn Sci 2015 Jan 17;39(1):96-125. Epub 2014 Jul 17.

Yale School of Management, Yale University.

Past research has identified a number of asymmetries based on moral judgments. Beliefs about (a) what a person values, (b) whether a person is happy, (c) whether a person has shown weakness of will, and (d) whether a person deserves praise or blame seem to depend critically on whether participants themselves find the agent's behavior to be morally good or bad. To date, however, the origins of these asymmetries remain unknown. The present studies examine whether beliefs about an agent's "true self" explain these observed asymmetries based on moral judgment. Using the identical materials from previous studies in this area, a series of five experiments indicate that people show a general tendency to conclude that deep inside every individual there is a "true self" calling him or her to behave in ways that are morally virtuous. In turn, this belief causes people to hold different intuitions about what the agent values, whether the agent is happy, whether he or she has shown weakness of will, and whether he or she deserves praise or blame. These results not only help to answer important questions about how people attribute various mental states to others; they also contribute to important theoretical debates regarding how moral values may shape our beliefs about phenomena that, on the surface, appear to be decidedly non-moral in nature.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12134DOI Listing
January 2015

Free to punish: a motivated account of free will belief.

J Pers Soc Psychol 2014 Apr;106(4):501-13

Department of Psychology, Florida State University.

Belief in free will is a pervasive phenomenon that has important consequences for prosocial actions and punitive judgments, but little research has investigated why free will beliefs are so widespread. Across 5 studies using experimental, survey, and archival data and multiple measures of free will belief, we tested the hypothesis that a key factor promoting belief in free will is a fundamental desire to hold others morally responsible for their wrongful behaviors. In Study 1, participants reported greater belief in free will after considering an immoral action than a morally neutral one. Study 2 provided evidence that this effect was due to heightened punitive motivations. In a field experiment (Study 3), an ostensibly real classroom cheating incident led to increased free will beliefs, again due to heightened punitive motivations. In Study 4, reading about others' immoral behaviors reduced the perceived merit of anti-free-will research, thus demonstrating the effect with an indirect measure of free will belief. Finally, Study 5 examined this relationship outside the laboratory and found that the real-world prevalence of immoral behavior (as measured by crime and homicide rates) predicted free will belief on a country level. Taken together, these results provide a potential explanation for the strength and prevalence of belief in free will: It is functional for holding others morally responsible and facilitates justifiably punishing harmful members of society.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0035880DOI Listing
April 2014

Value judgments and the true self.

Pers Soc Psychol Bull 2014 Feb 23;40(2):203-16. Epub 2013 Oct 23.

1Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.

The belief that individuals have a "true self" plays an important role in many areas of psychology as well as everyday life. The present studies demonstrate that people have a general tendency to conclude that the true self is fundamentally good--that is, that deep inside every individual, there is something motivating him or her to behave in ways that are virtuous. Study 1 finds that observers are more likely to see a person's true self reflected in behaviors they deem to be morally good than in behaviors they deem to be bad. Study 2 replicates this effect and demonstrates observers' own moral values influence what they judge to be another person's true self. Finally, Study 3 finds that this normative view of the true self is independent of the particular type of mental state (beliefs vs. feelings) that is seen as responsible for an agent's behavior.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0146167213508791DOI Listing
February 2014

Dual character concepts and the normative dimension of conceptual representation.

Cognition 2013 May 1;127(2):242-57. Epub 2013 Mar 1.

Program in Cognitive Science, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8306, USA.

Five experiments provide evidence for a class of 'dual character concepts.' Dual character concepts characterize their members in terms of both (a) a set of concrete features and (b) the abstract values that these features serve to realize. As such, these concepts provide two bases for evaluating category members and two different criteria for category membership. Experiment 1 provides support for the notion that dual character concepts have two bases for evaluation. Experiments 2-4 explore the claim that dual character concepts have two different criteria for category membership. The results show that when an object possesses the appropriate concrete features, but does not fulfill the appropriate abstract value, it is judged to be a category member in one sense but not in another. Finally, Experiment 5 uses the theory developed here to construct artificial dual character concepts and examines whether participants react to these artificial concepts in the same way as naturally occurring dual character concepts. The present studies serve to define the nature of dual character concepts and distinguish them from other types of concepts (e.g., natural kind concepts), which share some, but not all of the properties of dual character concepts. More broadly, these phenomena suggest a normative dimension in everyday conceptual representation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2013.01.005DOI Listing
May 2013

Not all mutualism is fair, and not all fairness is mutualistic.

Behav Brain Sci 2013 Feb;36(1):100-1

Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.

The target article convincingly argues that mutualistic cooperation is supported by partner choice. However, we will suggest that mutualistic cooperation is not the basis of fairness; instead, fairness is based on impartiality. In support of this view, we show that adults are willing to destroy others’ resources to avoid inequality, a result predicted by impartiality but not by mutualistic cooperation.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X12000878DOI Listing
February 2013
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