Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Cognitive science


In two studies, 5- and 6-year-old children were questioned about the status of the protagonist embedded in three different types of stories. In realistic stories that only included ordinary events, all children, irrespective of family background and schooling, claimed that the protagonist was a real person. In religious stories that included ordinarily impossible events brought about by divine intervention, claims about the status of the protagonist varied sharply with exposure to religion. Children who went to church or were enrolled in a parochial school, or both, judged the protagonist in religious stories to be a real person, whereas secular children with no such exposure to religion judged the protagonist in religious stories to be fictional. Children’s upbringing was also related to their judgment about the protagonist in fantastical stories that included ordinarily impossible events whether brought about by magic (Study 1) or without reference to magic (Study 2). Secular children were more likely than religious children to judge the protagonist in such fantastical stories to be fictional. The results suggest that exposure to religious ideas has a powerful impact on children’s differentiation between reality and fiction, not just for religious stories but also for fantastical stories.

Concepts: Truth, Philosophy, Religion, Reality, Character, Judgment, Short story, Secularity


Across languages, lexical items specific to infant-directed speech (i.e., ‘baby-talk words’) are characterized by a preponderance of onomatopoeia (or highly iconic words), diminutives, and reduplication. These lexical characteristics may help infants discover the referential nature of words, identify word referents, and segment fluent speech into words. If so, the amount of lexical input containing these properties should predict infants' rate of vocabulary growth. To test this prediction, we tracked the vocabulary size in 47 English-learning infants from 9 to 21 months and examined whether the patterns of growth can be related to measures of iconicity, diminutives, and reduplication in the lexical input at 9 months. Our analyses showed that both diminutives and reduplication in the input were associated with vocabulary growth, although measures of iconicity were not. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that phonological properties typical of lexical input in infant-directed speech play a role in early vocabulary growth.


Consciousness remains a mystery-“a phenomenon that people do not know how to think about-yet” (Dennett, , p. 21). Here, I consider how the connectionist perspective on information processing may help us progress toward the goal of understanding the computational principles through which conscious and unconscious processing differ. I begin by delineating the conceptual challenges associated with classical approaches to cognition insofar as understanding unconscious information processing is concerned, and to highlight several contrasting computational principles that are constitutive of the connectionist approach. This leads me to suggest that conscious and unconscious processing are fundamentally connected, that is, rooted in the very same computational principles. I further develop a perspective according to which the brain continuously and unconsciously learns to redescribe its own activity itself based on constant interaction with itself, with the world, and with other minds. The outcome of such interactions is the emergence of internal models that are metacognitive in nature and that function so as to make it possible for an agent to develop a (limited, implicit, practical) understanding of itself. In this light, plasticity and learning are constitutive of what makes us conscious, for it is in virtue of our own experiences with ourselves and with other people that our mental life acquires its subjective character. The connectionist framework continues to be uniquely positioned in the Cognitive Sciences to address the challenge of identifying what one could call the “computational correlates of consciousness” (Mathis & Mozer, ) because it makes it possible to focus on the mechanisms through which information processing takes place.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Cognitive science, Philosophy of mind, Mind, Consciousness, Artificial intelligence, Unconscious mind


Language maps signals onto meanings through the use of two distinct types of structure. First, the space of meanings is discretized into categories that are shared by all users of the language. Second, the signals employed by the language are compositional: The meaning of the whole is a function of its parts and the way in which those parts are combined. In three iterated learning experiments using a vast, continuous, open-ended meaning space, we explore the conditions under which both structured categories and structured signals emerge ex nihilo. While previous experiments have been limited to either categorical structure in meanings or compositional structure in signals, these experiments demonstrate that when the meaning space lacks clear preexisting boundaries, more subtle morphological structure that lacks straightforward compositionality-as found in natural languages-may evolve as a solution to joint pressures from learning and communication.

Concepts: Mathematics, Linguistics, Language, Meaning of life, Metaphysics, Programming language, Category theory, Semiotics


Reasoning research suggests that people use more stringent criteria when they evaluate others' arguments than when they produce arguments themselves. To demonstrate this “selective laziness,” we used a choice blindness manipulation. In two experiments, participants had to produce a series of arguments in response to reasoning problems, and they were then asked to evaluate other people’s arguments about the same problems. Unknown to the participants, in one of the trials, they were presented with their own argument as if it was someone else’s. Among those participants who accepted the manipulation and thus thought they were evaluating someone else’s argument, more than half (56% and 58%) rejected the arguments that were in fact their own. Moreover, participants were more likely to reject their own arguments for invalid than for valid answers. This demonstrates that people are more critical of other people’s arguments than of their own, without being overly critical: They are better able to tell valid from invalid arguments when the arguments are someone else’s rather than their own.

Concepts: Critical thinking, Cognition, Thought, Logic, Reasoning, Argument, Fallacy, Attacking Faulty Reasoning


Academics across widely ranging disciplines all pursue knowledge, but they do so using vastly different methods. Do these academics therefore also have different ideas about when someone possesses knowledge? Recent experimental findings suggest that intuitions about when individuals have knowledge may vary across groups; in particular, the concept of knowledge espoused by the discipline of philosophy may not align with the concept held by laypeople. Across two studies, we investigate the concept of knowledge held by academics across seven disciplines (N = 1,581) and compare these judgments to those of philosophers (N = 204) and laypeople (N = 336). We find that academics and laypeople share a similar concept of knowledge, while philosophers have a substantially different concept. These experiments show that (a) in contrast to philosophers, other academics and laypeople attribute knowledge to others in some “Gettier” situations; (b) academics and laypeople are much less likely to attribute knowledge when reminded of the possibility of error, but philosophers are not affected by this reminder; and © non-philosophy academics are overall more skeptical about knowledge than laypeople or philosophers. These findings suggest that academics across a wide range of disciplines share a similar concept of knowledge, and that this concept aligns closely with the intuitions held by laypeople, and differs considerably from the concept of knowledge described in the philosophical literature, as well as the epistemic intuitions of philosophers themselves.


For centuries, humans have contemplated the minds of gods. Research on religious cognition is spread across sub-disciplines, making it difficult to gain a complete understanding of how people reason about gods' minds. We integrate approaches from cognitive, developmental, and social psychology and neuroscience to illuminate the origins of religious cognition. First, we show that although adults explicitly discriminate supernatural minds from human minds, their implicit responses reveal far less discrimination. Next, we demonstrate that children’s religious cognition often matches adults' implicit responses, revealing anthropomorphic notions of God’s mind. Together, data from children and adults suggest the intuitive nature of perceiving God’s mind as human-like. We then propose three complementary explanations for why anthropomorphism persists in adulthood, suggesting that anthropomorphism may be (a) an instance of the anchoring and adjustment heuristic; (b) a reflection of early testimony; and/or © an evolutionary byproduct.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Cognitive science, Perception, Mind, Thought, Philosophy, Deity


Despite their importance in public discourse, numbers in the range of 1 million to 1 trillion are notoriously difficult to understand. We examine magnitude estimation by adult Americans when placing large numbers on a number line and when qualitatively evaluating descriptions of imaginary geopolitical scenarios. Prior theoretical conceptions predict a log-to-linear shift: People will either place numbers linearly or will place numbers according to a compressive logarithmic or power-shaped function (Barth & Paladino, ; Siegler & Opfer, ). While about half of people did estimate numbers linearly over this range, nearly all the remaining participants placed 1 million approximately halfway between 1 thousand and 1 billion, but placed numbers linearly across each half, as though they believed that the number words “thousand, million, billion, trillion” constitute a uniformly spaced count list. Participants in this group also tended to be optimistic in evaluations of largely ineffective political strategies, relative to linear number-line placers. The results indicate that the surface structure of number words can heavily influence processes for dealing with numbers in this range, and it can amplify the possibility that analogous surface regularities are partially responsible for parallel phenomena in children. In addition, these results have direct implications for lawmakers and scientists hoping to communicate effectively with the public.

Concepts: Mathematics, Number, Real number, Approximation, Estimation, Place, Names of large numbers, Googol


It is an old philosophical idea that if the future self is literally different from the current self, one should be less concerned with the death of the future self (Parfit, ). This paper examines the relation between attitudes about death and the self among Hindus, Westerners, and three Buddhist populations (Lay Tibetan, Lay Bhutanese, and monastic Tibetans). Compared with other groups, monastic Tibetans gave particularly strong denials of the continuity of self, across several measures. We predicted that the denial of self would be associated with a lower fear of death and greater generosity toward others. To our surprise, we found the opposite. Monastic Tibetan Buddhists showed significantly greater fear of death than any other group. The monastics were also less generous than any other group about the prospect of giving up a slightly longer life in order to extend the life of another.

Concepts: Future, Buddhism, Tibet, Defence mechanism, Gautama Buddha, Tibetan Buddhism, Mahayana, Vajrayana


Sculptors, architects, and painters are three professional groups that require a comprehensive understanding of how to manipulate spatial structures. While it has been speculated that they may differ in the way they conceive of space due to the different professional demands, this has not been empirically tested. To achieve this, we asked architects, painters, sculptors, and a control group questions about spatially complex pictures. Verbalizations elicited were examined using cognitive discourse analysis. We found significant differences between each group. Only painters shifted consistently between 2D and 3D concepts, architects were concerned with paths and spatial physical boundedness, and sculptors produced responses that fell between architects and painters. All three differed from controls, whose verbalizations were generally less elaborate and detailed. Thus, for the case of sculptors, architects, and painters, profession appears to relate to a different spatial conceptualization manifested through a systematically contrasting way of talking about space.

Concepts: Scientific method, Cognition, Perception, Space, Idea, Abstraction, Concepts, Concept map