Doctoral Defense of Denis Tatone
The Department of Cognitive Science cordially invites you to the public defense of the PhD thesis of
The naïve sociology of resource transfer
An investigation of the inferential links between sharing behaviors and relational models in human infants
Primary supervisor: Gergely Csibra
Secondary supervisor: Dan Sperber
The ubiquitous occurrence of active transfer (giving) in the domain of nonkin interactions represents one of the most distinguishing features of the human sharing complex, and a striking departure from the sharing behavior of non-human primates, where giving occurs rarely and only in the presence of dependent offspring. The re-deployment of giving outside of parental-care contexts, we surmise, reflects human-unique selective pressures for the formation of cooperative partnerships to smooth the risks of high-variance foraging via reciprocal sharing.
The co-variation between giving and reciprocally patterned relationships, we hypothesize, represented an evolutionarily recurrent feature of our ancestral social ecology, which has been captured in the human cognitive system in the form of an adaptive prior: an inbuilt propensity to
infer from the occurrence of a giving-based interactions the existence of an underlying relationship regulated on reciprocal exchange. Borrowing from Fiske’s (1992) Relational Models Theory, we characterize such relationship as conforming to the equality-matching (EM) model (i.e., a model governed by a directive standard of even balance).
Building on these premises, the present work seeks to experimentally investigate such sensitivity to giving as cue of EM relationships in human infants. The dissertation is composed of five sets of studies (excluding the Appendix), which addressed this hypothesis at different levels: first, by assessing whether infants are capable of representing giving actions, and which are the minimal input conditions for inducing such representation (Chapters III and IV); second, by testing whether infants encode information functional for the bookkeeping of welfare imbalances (a socially relevant aspect of EM relationships) selectively for giving-based interactions (Chapters V and VI); and, third, by exploring whether infants expect equal resource division specifically for allocation procedures involving active distribution (Chapter VII).
The findings produced by these studies convergently supported the hypothesis that the observation of giving primes the representation of EM relationships, additionally suggesting that superficially similar transferring actions (i.e., unresisted taking) may elicit fundamentally different inferences about the coordination rules adopted by the sharing partners. These results have two major implications for the research on early social cognition. Firstly, they demonstrate that infants are equipped with a rich conceptual repertoire of possession-related actions, which they exploit to infer different rules for regulating benefit exchange over time. Secondly, they suggest that, beyond the attribution of morally relevant dispositions and the representation of cooperative/competitive coalitions, infants’ naïve sociology also encompasses the understanding and classification of social relationships on the basis of different rules of long-term exchange and benefit distribution.