At the ACES research group, we do cognitive science that is informed by, and relevant to, the social sciences. We investigate the cognitive bases of trust, moral choices and judgments, coordination, communication and other social behaviours at the heart of human societies and cultures.
We pay special attention to how people react to incentives: are the reactions adaptive, are they based on preferences? In particular, do social preferences (which involve reputation management, willingness to abide by one’s commitment and to be fair, …) lead us to making adaptive choices?
We collect data using diverse experimental methods like vignette studies and economic games. We do not shun from analysing sociological and ethnographic data.
Our research tackles the cognitive bases of cooperation, communication, and society and culture.
What kind of cognitive mechanisms enable humans to cooperate on so many diverse tasks? What is the evolved function of these mechanisms? We are doing research on:
- when and why we decide to rely on others
- our pro-social preferences (esp. fairness, aversion to disappointing)
- our capacities to coordinate with others
At the functional level, we study our cooperative skills and preferences as mechanisms which evolved for navigating a social environment where their are numerous win-win opportunities to seize (aka partner-choice ecology).
Human expression is open-ended, versatile and diverse. It ranges from ordinary language use to using dress codes, from exaggerated displays of affection to micro-movements that aid coordination. Some expressions consist in giving evidence about what one means--they are communicative (key words: 'ostensive comunication', 'pragmatics', 'Gricean intentions'). How is this type of evidence processed? How does it actually affect the beliefs of the audience? Our work contributes to answering these two questions with projects on:
- Communication that uses graphs
- Why and when we trust what is communicated to us
Society and Culture
What are the cognitive processes involved in the production and maintenance of social and cultural phenomena? Undoubtedly, those involved in coordination and communication do play an important role. For instance, when people distribute chores among members of the household, they are solving a coordination problem. How does this lead to traditions such as the housewife gender role? How do trust and distrust lead to the spread of misinformation? Topics of interest to us include:
- Nudges and Policy Making
- The cognitive roots of institutions
- Cultural Evolution
- Science studies
Our research on the cognitive bases of social and cultural phenomena benefits from collaborative projects with social anthropologists, economists and political scientists within the frames of the SMASH and Attitudes to inequalities (ATI).