SOPhiA 2022

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programm - Vortrag

"Active attention guidance" as a basic scaffold for (social) cognition
(Philosophy of Mind, Englisch)


The environment shapes our behaviour. This idea has received a comeback during the past decades. However, the focus has mainly been on objects of the world, such as white canes, calculators or notebooks. Since our environment is made up of objects and other agents, I would like to shift the attention towards how other agents might shape our behaviour and facilitate our cognitive capacities.

Take pointing behaviour as an example: By pointing towards a third entity, I can intentionally direct the other's attention towards a common target. This cannot only facilitate or enhance the other's understanding of the content of my talk, but also help to shape the other__s attention in various ways, such as showing an interesting object. Furthermore, pointing seems to develop in parallel to the ability to establish joint attention in human infants (Cappuccio & Shepherd, 2013), thereby implying an important role of pointing within socio-cognitive development. Yet, pointing gestures are primarily understood as an extended finger used to point to a specific target (Krause, 2018; Heschl, 2018). This poses a problem if we include other cultures, that show a variety of different pointing signals, such as pointing with the whole hand, chin, nose, or other body parts (Wilkins, 2003), not to speak of other species that might even be physically unable to show such a gesture.

To account for these differences, we need to extend the notion of pointing by shifting the question from "how does the gesture look?" to "in which way does it facilitate or enhance the other's cognition?" I propose a theory of minimal pointing that focuses on the underlying mechanisms, namely (1) attention gaining, and (2) directing the other's attention towards a specific target. I call this active attention guidance, since it might not be as sophisticated as declarative forms of human pointing, but requires more than passive gaze following: the subject looking at an object first has to actively catch and guide the other__s attention towards the target. This can be achieved by various means and cues (visual, auditory, etc.) that gain the other's attention and direct it towards the specific target, requiring a sensitivity for the other's attention without the need for highly sophisticated linguistic abilities. However, for a strategy to count as AAG, the effects must be actively pursued showing goal directed behaviour. Therefore, hardwired rigid patterns have to be ruled out by restricting AAG to behaviours allowing for at least minimal flexibility. Consequently, attention gaining and directing behaviours relying on a sensitivity for others' attentional states and provide minimal flexibility and goal directedness qualify as AAG. I argue that AAG itself is a sophisticated form of joint attention for it includes the active guidance of the other__s attention, which is thought of as a major developmental step in human social cognition (Tomasello, 1999). By applying this approach, nonhuman animals can be included without the need to provide evidence for (explicit) general mental state ascription, as has classically been required for more sophisticated forms of joint attention. Instead, a sensitivity for others' attentional states alone (i.e., without second or third order intentionality required) would be sufficient. Such a sensitivity has been shown in various species, such as apes (Dafreville et al., 2021), other primates (Hattori et al., 2010), cats (Ito et al., 2016), dogs (Mikl__si et al., 2000; Call et al., 2003), wolves (Range & Vir__nyi, 2011), horses (Trösch et al., 2019), and corvids (von Bayern et al., 2009).

Further, I argue that active attention guidance can be seen as a basic scaffold for social cognition, underlying flexible coordination, cooperation, and other more sophisticated socio-cognitive abilities. Since our environment consists not only of objects, but also to a huge extent of other agents, we should put more emphasis on how others can shape our cognition and what we can do to help others. To achieve this, a broader comparative view including different species can be useful to examine more basic underlying mechanisms of highly developed cognitive abilities within an even more complex social environment.

Keywords: pointing, attention, scaffold, comparative cognition, social cognition

References can of course be requested if needed.

Chair: Bruno Cortesi
Zeit: 14:40-15:10, 09. September 2022 (Freitag)
Ort: HS E.002
Anmerkung: (Online Talk)

Maja Griem
(Ruhr University Bochum, Deutschland)

Testability and Meaning deco