Blog

Staring back at the evil eye

A few months into my fieldwork in a Romanian village, I was told by friends that I wonder way too much. When visiting people in their homes, I alway noticed something interesting, be it old house architecture, inventive implements, cute animals or anything catching my attention. My mistake, I was told, was expressing my curiosity out loud, wondering how this was made or where that came from. Worse, I was praising my hosts’ properties, mistakenly thinking they wouldn’t mind, or quite feel proud. Instead, I was told people were uncomfortable with such expressions of wonder, curiosity, and praise because they bring misfortune by means of deochi the “evil eye”....

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Rethinking ostension (1. A terminological issue)

Relevance theory was developed in the 1970s and 80s. Over the years, there have been a various modifications—hopefully improvements. In this and in posts to follow, I want to engage in some further rethinking. Today, I start, as a warm-up, with a terminological issue. In in our 1986 book, Relevance: Communication and cognition, Deirdre and I drew a sharp contrast between two forms of communication, which we called “coded communication” and “ostensive-inferential communication.”...

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“So you’re saying … we should live like lobsters?” or: Why does politics make us stupid?

A few weeks ago, a TV interview of clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson by journalist Cathy Newman became a minor Internet phenomenon, thanks to the journalist's extraordinary interviewing style. She handled the conversation so badly that the Atlantic commented on that car-crash of an interview under the title Why Can't People Hear What Jordan Peterson Is Saying?

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Friends

We asked Helga Vierich to share with us as a guest blogger anthropological reflections on friendship and social networks based on her fieldwork among the Kua hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari. Helga has a PhD in anthropology from the University of Toronto, and teaches at the Yellowhead Tribal College in Alberta. ...

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Is submentalizing part of the genetic tool-kit of human social cognition?

Findings from the developmental investigation of false-belief understanding in preverbal human infants, based on looking time (and other kinds of looking behavior) are relevant to hypotheses about the ontogenetic and the phylogenetic origins of human mindreading capacities. According to Cecilia Heyes (2012), “recent empirical work in comparative psychology, developmental psychology and cognitive neuroscience provides surprisingly little evidence of genetic adaptation, and ample evidence of cultural adaptation.”

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The invention of cuneiform: Writing in Sumer

This month we are reading the final chapters of Jean-Jacques Glassner's The invention of cuneiform: Writing in Sumer (2003). Glassner's work is original in both its style and scope. He opens with a Sumerian-centric account of the invention of writing within its historical and cultural context, as drawn from primary archeological and paleographic evidence. ...

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How human are the dehumanised?

Developmental psychologist Paul Bloom recently published an article in The New Yorker about dehumanisation. He argued – drawing on research from many subfields in philosophy, psychology, anthropology and sociology – that the way we often think about things like slavery, genocide and misogyny is in some respects upside down. The problem isn’t that people sometimes see others as not human, it’s that they see others as very human indeed – with all that that entails....

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Are liberals too dumb to understand this? Virtue signaling in the age of outrage advertising

Through our newsfeeds and social media, we are constantly confronted with articles and headlines (like the headline of this piece) that have been deliberately designed to provoke outrage and attract clicks. We often naively think that by sharing our outrage on Facebook or Twitter, we are performing a small but good deed. However the collective effect of these small deeds often ends up exactly the opposite of what was intended....

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Can teleology explain why very young children help a mistaken agent?

3-year-olds fail to accurately predict where a mistaken agent is likely to look for her toy if they are explicitly asked to do so. However, preverbal infants (who are not asked anything in implicit tasks) have been widely shown to expect a mistaken agent to act in accordance with the content of her false belief (cf. Baillargeon et al., 2010 for review). This is the puzzle of the discrepant developmental findings. ...

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What it took for break-up songs to become cultural items

Gloria Gaynor singing I will survive

Some of the skills you develop as a PhD student were not on the program. Now two years into my PhD, I realize that I have become much better at composing nice playlists, and in particular break-up songs playlists. Admittedly, this is not what I thought I’d get good at, but, well, it still counts as a skill or knowledge of some sort, and I enjoy my newly-won status of information-provider. After years been given advice about music by others, ending up in the position of the adviser feels like an achievement....

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We may be thinking about it all wrong

“What should we do about North Korea?” asked an article in the September 8 edition of the Washington Post. What made me read the article, however, was not the title but the subtitle:  “We may be thinking about it all wrong.” Might the article be of relevance to the psychology of reasoning? ...

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Do chimpanzees really care about equity?

One of the most popular Youtube videos in comparative psychology features capuchins exchanging tokens for food with a human experimenter. It is fascinating to see how outraged the capuchin becomes when realizing that the experimenter is giving her cucumber while she is giving out grapes (much more tasty food) to another capuchin! After watching this video, ...

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