Social Cognition

Course Description: 

What are the psychological bases of the rich social interactions and cultural life that characterise human societies? This course will review some of the answers provided by recent studies in cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology and social anthropology. It will cover a wide range of topics related to social cognition and human sociality, including:

  • Mind reading
  • Naive sociology
  • Communication, social learning, imitation
  • The biological evolution of social cognitive capacities
  • Models of Man in the social sciences
  • The cultural diversity of human psychology
  • How human psychology constrains culture
  • Models of cultural evolution
  • Co-operation and moral cognition

(Note that some key themes will be omitted. Joint action, for instance, has been taught in N. Sebanz and G. Knoblich’s research course. Mind-reading is a key ability that ground most aspects of our social life, but it will be dealt more thoroughly in D. Samson’s elective course. I have also included no brain studies).

The course is structured in three parts that focus on different aspects of social cognition and human sociality. The first parts is focused on the social cognitive skills that humans have. It will include sessions on mind-reading, social perception and naïve sociology, and the biological evolution of social cognition. The two last parts are focused on culture and cognition. The second part will review social scientists’ take on human psychology and how it influences their understanding of social phenomena. The third part will deal with specific themes in cognition and culture: morality, religion and science.


Learning Outcomes: 

    Students will be presented with up to date research on key issues in the study of social cognition. Even though the course could not consist of a comprehensive review of current research on social cognition, themes have been chosen so as cover the main issues and illuminate what are the stakes of the research field.


    for Grade


  • All students must read the core reading before the seminars. Students are expected to contribute to class discussion and should have ready, each week, at least one question based on the texts and that could be fruitfully addressed during class discussion.
  • Each student will present a set of papers to the class and will participate to a ‘debate’ (see week 2 session). For individual presentations, I encourage preparing a handout that summarizes the goals of the papers, their main arguments and the method and evidence they rely on. For participation to debates, relatively comprehensive reviews of the arguments and empirical evidence in favour of a given position will have to be presented and defended.
  • Registered students must submit a short essay of no more than 2,000 words at the end of the term. Students will decide on the topic of the essay in agreement with me. First year PhD students will be encouraged to focus on the social and cultural aspects of their chosen PhD topics. This could mean questioning the potential cultural variability of the cognitive mechanisms to be investigated, questioning how the type of behavioural effects to be investigated participate to the shaping of some social phenomena, questioning societal implications of the student’s research project (political and organisational implications, potential applications in cognitive ergonomy).

Grades will be awarded as follows:

  • Final essay 40%
  • Paper presentation and debates 40 %
  • Participation 20%