Thursday 27 November 2014

Workshop on Epistemic Emotions

On August 25th and 26th, the Swiss Centre for the Affective Sciences held a workshop on epistemic emotions and epistemic feelings.  Epistemic emotions are a type of mental state that includes the feeling of understanding, the feeling of knowledge, and the feeling of interest.  The workshop was put on by the Phrontis research group on attention, interest, and epistemic emotions and organized by Anne Meylan and network member Richard Dub.

The workshop opened with a presentation by Brian McLaughlin (Rutgers) entitled 'Delusions and Feelings'.  McLaughlin presented a model of the Capgras delusion (the delusion that a loved one has been replaced with an imposter).  McLaughlin argued that it is necessary to posit the "cognitive feeling" of unfamiliarity to explain how Capgras belief is acquired.  The experience of unfamiliarity has a strongly affective aspect that causes the sufferer to straightaway acquire the belief that the person in front of her is unfamiliar.  Anxiety and paranoia then cause a tunneling of attention, and a full-fledged delusional theory thus grows from the single delusional belief.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Towards a Theory of 'Adaptive Rationality'?

I am posting this on behalf of Andrea Polonioli, PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.

Andrea Polonioli

My PhD project analyzes some recent developments in the ‘rationality debate’, which originated as a reaction to the body of research that has followed Kahneman and Tversky’s work within the Heuristics-and-Biases project. Empirical evidence suggested that people are prone to widespread and systematic reasoning errors, and pessimistic views of human rationality have been quite popular in the psychological literature. However, this picture has also attracted fierce criticisms, and several researchers have recently questioned pessimistic assessments of human rationality by emphasizing the central importance of evolutionary considerations in our understanding of rationality. 

In a paper I recently published in Philosophy of the Social Sciences I present some steps already taken in my project. In particular, I critically discuss some research that has come together under the umbrella term of “adaptive rationality” (AR) (e.g., Todd and Gigerenzer 2012). According to this view, people should not be assessed against norms of logic, probability theory, and decision theory, but rather against the goals they entertain. Moreover, the conclusion that people are irrational is seen as unsupported: people are often remarkably successful once assessed against their goals and given the cognitive and external constraints imposed by the environment.

I suggest that these theorists are right in arguing for a conceptual revolution in the study of human rationality. To show this, I start by considering the ways in which decision scientists tend to justify traditional norms of rationality. A prominent justification is pragmatic: it is commonly argued that if people violate such norms, they will incur costs. But these links are open to empirical testing. As Baron puts it:

'If it should turn out […] that carefully violating the laws of logic at every turn leads to eternal happiness, then it is these violations that should be called rational' (Baron 2000: 53).

AR theorists take this possibility seriously. Their research shows that behaviour that violates norms of rationality can be successful once measured against epistemic and individual goals. AR theorists seem right in claiming that, given the pragmatic premises, we have no grounds for considering those behaviours as irrational.

But where does this lead us? According to AR theorists, we should think of human cognition as adaptive and successful. This is problematic, though. In fact, empirical evidence suggests that people can be quite unsuccessful at achieving their goals. To take an example, let’s go back to the quote from Baron. Are people really good at predicting what will make them happy? In recent years decision scientists have started to directly study contexts when decisions succeed and fail to maximize happiness. An important result seems to be that people often fail to make choices that maximize their happiness. By looking at this as well as other examples, I try to show that in some important contexts people are, after all, ‘adaptively irrational’.

Sunday 23 November 2014

3QD Philosophy Prize -- Update

Dear Readers

Three of our posts have been nominated for the 3QD Philosophy Prize:

Epistemic Injustice and Illness by Ian James Kidd and Havi Carel, 19 Aug 2014

Sadder but Wiser? Interview with Jennifer Radden by Magdalena Antrobus, 6 Nov 2014

The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations - See more at:
The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations - See more at:
The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations - See more at:
The Representation of Agents in Auditory Verbal Hallucinations by Sam Wilkinson, 9 Sept 2014.

Please consider voting for one of the posts above! Here is where you can vote, by 25th November 11:59pm NYC time.

mperfect Cognitions: Epistemic Injustice and Illness - See more at:
mperfect Cognitions: Epistemic Injustice and Illness - See more at:

Thursday 20 November 2014

10th Mind Network Meeting

On Saturday 4th October, the 10th Meeting of the Mind Network was held at University of York, organised by Louise Richardson. The meeting was supported by the Department of Philosophy at the University of York, and the Mind Association.

Dominic Gregory from the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield opened the meeting with his paper ‘Perception and Imagery’. Gregory was interested in what he called ‘distinctively sensory representations’, which are imagistic representations standing in a special relationship to our sensory powers. Gregory tried to do two things in the paper. First, he gave an account of the contents possessed by distinctively sensory representations, so-called ‘distinctively sensory’ contents. Gregory offered an explanation of the way in which distinctively sensory contents depend upon sensory experience. Second, Gregory discussed the possibility that the dependency relations between distinctively sensory contents and sensory experience might also hold in the other direction insofar as some of our expectations thought crucial to our being able to see objects as external, have contents which are distinctively sensory.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Neural Correlates of the Optimism Bias

Bojana Kuzmanovic
My name is Bojana Kuzmanovic, I am a postdoctoral researcher working in an interdisciplinary setting at the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine at the J├╝lich Research Centre in Germany. I am a cognitive neuroscientist/psychologist by training and my work focuses on person perception and emotional influences on decision making. Here I am going to discuss recent work on the emotional value of self-related optimistic belief updates.

Recently, Anneli Jefferson reported a behavioral study investigating the optimism bias by using a belief update paradigm inspired by Sharot et al. (2011). The findings show that when confronted with new information, people adjusted their initial risk estimates for undesirable future events to a greater extent when this information supported more positive outlooks than when it suggested a higher risk for future hazards (Kuzmanovic et al., under revision). Moreover, this asymmetry in updating was greater for judgments relating to oneself than for those relating to similar others, and was moderated by individual differences in trait optimism.

Sunday 16 November 2014

3QD Philosophy Prize

Dear Imperfect Cognitions readers

If you have read a post you really liked on our blog in the last year why don't you nominate it for the 3quarksdaily Philosophy Prize? A few hours left to nominate!

Details here!

The Imperfect Cognitions Team

Thursday 13 November 2014

Symposium on Theory of Mind and the Social Mind

Logo of The Human Mind Project
I'm Mattia Gallotti, Project Coordinator of The Human Mind Project. In this post, I report on a recent symposium entitled "Theory of Mind and the Social Mind". This was the third public event of The Human Mind Project and it took place on September 16th in the broader context of the 2014 annual meeting of the European Society of Philosophy and Psychology (ESPP) held in Noto, Sicily.

Led by Professor Sir Colin Blakemore, The Human Mind Project highlights the contribution of the arts and humanities to the study of human nature, and the importance of a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to understanding the mind, integrating science and the humanities. In this spirit, the event - a symposium on “Theory of Mind and the Social Mind” - had presentations in social anthropology and neuroscience, by Rita Astuti (LSE) and Mina Cikara (Harvard), about how recent advances in the research on shared cognition and group behaviour can shed new light on corners of the debate on theory of mind that still await clarification.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Optimism Bias and Belief Updating

Anneli Jefferson

I'm Anneli Jefferson, Visiting Research Fellow at King's College London, and I'm interested in philosophy of psychology and ethics, particularly in issues at the intersection of these two fields.

People tend to systematically overestimate their own abilities and their likelihood of positive future outcomes and to underestimate the likelihood of negative outcomes. Most commonly, this optimism bias is measured at a group level. While it is clear that some people must be making overly optimistic judgments if, for example, 70% of people asked think that they are less likely than their peers to experience a car accident, it can be difficult to tell which individual person’s outlook is actually unrealistically optimistic.

In a recent study, Sharot et al. used an update paradigm to measure the optimism bias at the individual level. Participants were asked to rate their likelihood of experiencing various negative events and were subsequently confronted with the average likelihood of experiencing the respective events. All estimations were then repeated, so that participants had the opportunity to update their initial estimate. It turned out that on average, participants were more likely to update their estimate in response to information that was desirable than when they received information that was undesirable.

For example, if a participant rated her likelihood of suffering from cancer at 30% and found out that the population-wide likelihood was 20%, she was likely to revise her estimates towards the more favorable base rate. If, on the other hand, a participant estimated her likelihood of suffering from cancer at 10% and was subsequently confronted with an average likelihood of 20%, she was significantly less likely to adjust her estimate upwards and, even when she did, the update tended to be smaller.

We modified this elegant paradigm in order to find out whether we could reproduce the bias towards neglecting undesirable information. In addition, we tested whether this tendency to exhibit optimistically biased belief updating was stronger for self-related judgments than for other-related judgments. To this end, we let participants estimate the likelihood of experiencing negative events in the future, then presented them with the average likelihoods of the respective events, and subsequently gave them the opportunity to revise their initial estimate. In half the trials, estimations referred to oneself, in the other half to a similar other (i.e. someone of a similar age and with a similar socio-economic background).

It turned out that by and large, belief updates were again greater in response to desirable than undesirable information and this effect was more pronounced when making judgments regarding one’s own future than when making predictions for a similar other. What is more, we found that the tendency to disregard undesirable information to a greater extent in self-related than in other-related judgments correlated with optimism as a personality trait, which we tested for separately with the Life Orientation Test (LOT-R).

So, overall, the findings demonstrate the optimism bias in belief updating, because new information calling for unfavorable updates was selectively dismissed. This tendency to neglect undesirable information was significantly stronger in judgments referring to oneself than to others, but only in persons with high trait optimism. Thus, the generally positive future expectations in persons with high trait optimism may reflect the perception that one’s own outlook is better than that of others, rather than reflecting positive expectations about the future more generally.


Sharot, T., Korn, C. W., & Dolan, R. J. (2011). How unrealistic optimism is maintained in the face of reality. Nat Neurosci 14(11), 1475-1479. doi: nn.2949 [pii]

Kuzmanovic, B., Jefferson, A. & Vogeley, K. Self-specific optimism bias in belief updating is associated with high trait optimism. Forthcoming in Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Sadder but Wiser? Interview with Jennifer Radden

Jennifer Radden
This week we feature an interview with Jennifer Radden. Jennifer is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her teaching and research interests include philosophy of mental health and the ethics of psychiatry. She is the author of ‘Divided Minds and Successive Selves: Ethical Issues in Disorders of Identity and Personality’, and ‘The Nature of Melancholy’.

MA: In our project we investigate the idea that mental imperfections may carry some important epistemic benefits. Do you find it plausible to say that depression may carry some benefits of this kind, even if it is a harmful experience?

JR: Answer: Harmful? Or painful? If it’s harmful also, then we’d need to do some weighing of relative harms and goods, I’d guess, for an overall assessment of the right kind, and my answer is: I don’t know… If you meant something more like painful, then yes, this is certainly the way people sometimes speak about these episodes, even using ‘no pain, no gain’ language. But I’m not sure we can judge in any general way. People’s sense of the meaning of pain and, indeed, of depression, are so varied, that it seems to be a sort of empirical question for social psychology, and one to which helpfully uniform answers may be hard to come by.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Dementia and the Truth

The Mental Health Foundation has made available on its website a literature review on truth-telling in dementia that I found really interesting to read. The review is part of an inquiry into distressing symptoms of dementia funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The reviewer is Yulia Kartalova-O'Doherty.

The upshot of the inquiry is supposed to consist in practical recommendations for carers and healthcare professionals who find themselves in a dilemma: on the one hand, challenging the patient's beliefs when they are delusional (e.g., the belief that a loved one is still alive when she has been dead for some time, or the belief that the spouse is a deceitful impostor) causes considerable distress to the patient; on the other hand, not challenging the beliefs seems wrong as it involves lying or implies disrespect towards the patient.

One of the findings of the literature review is that current guidelines to healthcare professionals do not justify lying, but in practice people with dementia are not often confronted about their delusional beliefs. Further, there seem to be some tension between the recommendations currently offered by charities and other organisations: the Alzheimer's Society, for instance, warns against letting people live in a delusional reality but then suggests that ignoring a mistake can be the right thing to do, in order not to undermine the patient's confidence.