Dan Sperber

Dan Sperber
Central European University | CEU · Departments of Cognitive Science and of Philosophy

About

223
Publications
149,122
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27,207
Citations
Additional affiliations
September 2010 - present
Central European University
Position
  • Professor
January 2009 - present
January 2001 - December 2012
Institut Jean Nicod

Publications

Publications (223)
Article
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When human infants are intentionally addressed by others, they tend to interpret the information communicated as being relevant to them and worth acquiring. For humans, this attribution of relevance leads to a preference to learn from communication, making it possible to accumulate knowledge over generations. Great apes are sensitive to communicati...
Article
Joint actions typically require that information relevant for performing a task together is available to the interaction partners. In some situations, such information is perceptually retrievable and salient enough for co-actors to simply use it. In other situations, the relevant information needs to be actively shared among co-actors, e.g., by mak...
Article
Full-text available
Entrevista com Dan Sperber supervisionada por Elena Godoy
Article
While widely acknowledged in the cultural evolution literature, ecological factors—aspects of the physical environment that affect the way in which cultural productions evolve—have not been investigated experimentally. Here, we present an experimental investigation of this type of factor by using a transmission chain (iterated learning) experiment....
Article
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We investigated whether communicative cues help observers to make sense of human interaction. We recorded EEG from an observer monitoring two individuals who were occasionally communicating with each other via either mutual eye contact and/or pointing gestures, and then jointly attending to the same object or attending to different objects that wer...
Article
While widely acknowledged in the cultural evolution literature, ecological factors - aspects of the physical environment that affect the way in which cultural productions evolve - have not been investigated experimentally. Here, we present an experimental investigation of this type of factor by using a transmission chain (iterated learning) experim...
Chapter
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This article revisits the old controversy concerning the relation of the mother’s brother and sister’s son in patrilineal societies in the light both of anthropological criticisms of the very notion of kinship and of evolutionary and epidemiological approaches to culture. It argues that the ritualized patterns of behavior discussed by Radcliffe-Bro...
Preprint
While widely acknowledged in the cultural evolution literature, ecological factors - i.e., differences in the physical environment in which cultural productions evolve - haven’t been investigated experimentally. Here we present an experimental investigation of this type of factors by using a transmission chain experiment. We predicted that differen...
Article
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The spatial composition of human portraits obeys historically changing cultural norms. We show that it is also affected by cognitive factors that cause greater spontaneous attention to what is in front rather in the back of an agent. Scenes with more space in front of a directed object are both more often produced and judged as more aesthetically p...
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What role does children’s trust in communication play in their acquisition of new meanings? To answer, we report two experimental studies (N = 81) testing how three- to four-year-olds interpret the meaning of a novel communicative device when it is used by a malevolent and potentially deceptive informant. Children participated in a hiding game in w...
Article
I argue, with examples, that most human cognitive skills are neither instincts nor gadgets but mechanisms shaped both by evolved dispositions and by cultural inputs. This shaping can work either through evolved skills fulfilling their function with the help of cultural skills that they contribute to shape, or through cultural skills recruiting evol...
Chapter
Relevance, Pragmatics and Interpretation - edited by Kate Scott July 2019
Article
Boyer & Petersen (B&P) assume that the intuitive systems underlying folk-economic beliefs (FEBs), and, in particular, emporiophobia, evolved in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA), before markets. This makes the historical development of markets puzzling. We suggest that what evolved in the EEA are templates that help children develop...
Article
In their reviews, Chater and Oaksford, Dutilh Novaes, and Sterelny are critical of our modularist approach to reason. In this response, we clarify our claim that reason is one of many cognitive modules that produce intuitive inferences each in its domain; the reason module producing intuitions about reasons. We argue that in‐principle objections to...
Article
In biology, natural selection is the main explanation of adaptations and it is an attractive idea to think that an analogous force could have the same role in cultural evolution. In support of this idea, all the main ingredients for natural selection have been documented in the cultural domain. However, the changes that occur during cultural transm...
Poster
The sunk cost effect is a human propensity to pursue a course of action and resource investment without considering its prospective results (Arkes & Blumer, 1985), which has also been reported in rodents and birds using various operant procedures. No studies to date, however, have tested this effect without extensive training. We used a manipulatio...
Article
The Pigeonhole Principle states that if n items are sorted into m categories and if n > m, then at least one category must contain more than one item. For instance, if 22 pigeons are put into 17 pigeonholes, at least one pigeonhole must contain more than one pigeon. This principle seems intuitive, yet when told about a city with 220,000 inhabitants...
Preprint
The Pigeonhole Principle states that if n items are sorted into m categories and if n > m, then at least one category must contain more than one item. For instance if 22 pigeons are put into 17 pigeonholes, at least one pigeonhole must contain more than one pigeon. This principle seems very intuitive, yet when asked a question about, for instance,...
Article
We suggest that preschoolers’ frequent obliviousness to the risks and opportunities of deception comes from a trusting stance supporting verbal communication. Three studies ( N = 125) confirm this hypothesis. Three-year-olds can hide information from others (Study 1) and they can lie (Study 2) in simple settings. Yet when one introduces the possibi...
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Previous experimental studies show that captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and orangutans (Pongo abelii) cooperate with conspecifics but communication does not seem to play a crucial role. We presented a coordination task in which pairs of conspecifics had to communicate to succeed. Participants faced each other from opposite sides of an apparat...
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Previous experimental studies show that captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and orangutans (Pongo abelii) cooperate with conspecifics but communication does not seem to play a crucial role. We presented a coordination task in which pairs of conspecifics had to communicate to succeed. Participants faced each other from opposite sides of an apparat...
Article
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Our main aim in this paper is to show that constructing an adequate theory of communication involves going beyond Grice's notion of speaker's meaning. After considering some of the diffi culties raised by Grice's three-clause defi nition of speaker's meaning, we argue that the characterisation of ostensive communication introduced in relevance theo...
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As Kline envisages, there is an important relationship between cultural attraction and teaching. The very function of teaching is to make the content taught an attractor. Teaching, moreover, typically fulfills its function by exploiting a variety of factors of cultural attraction that help make its content learnable and teachable. How to Cite This...
Article
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Our main aim in this paper is to show that constructing an adequate theory of communication involves going beyond Grice’s notion of speaker’s meaning. After considering some of the diffi culties raised by Grice’s three-clause defi nition of speaker’s meaning, we argue that the characterisation of ostensive communication introduced in relevance theo...
Article
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Logical connectives (e.g., or, if, and not) are central to everyday conversation, and the inferences they generate are made with little effort in pragmatically sound situations. In contrast, the neural substrates of logical inference-making have been studied exclusively in abstract tasks where pragmatic concerns are minimal. Here, we used fMRI in a...
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Darwin-inspired population thinking suggests approaching culture as a population of items of different types, whose relative frequencies may change over time. Three nested subtypes of populational models can be distinguished: evolutionary, selectional and replicative. Substantial progress has been made in the study of cultural evolution by modellin...
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Little is known about the spread of emotions beyond dyads. Yet, it is of importance for explaining the emergence of crowd behaviors. Here, we experimentally addressed whether emotional homogeneity within a crowd might result from a cascade of local emotional transmissions where the perception of another's emotional expression produces, in the obser...
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In ‘The Evolution of Testimony: Receiver Vigilance, Speaker Honesty and the Reliability of Communication,’ Kourken Michaelian questions the basic tenets of our article ‘Epistemic Vigilance’ (Sperber et al. 2010). Here I defend against Michaelian's criticisms the view that epistemic vigilance plays a major role in explaining the evolutionary stabili...
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What makes humans moral beings? This question can be understood either as a proximate “how” question or as an ultimate “why” question. The “how” question is about the mental and social mechanisms that produce moral judgments and interactions, and has been investigated by psychologists and social scientists. The “why” question is about the fitness c...
Article
Our discussion of the commentaries begins, at the evolutionary level, with issues raised by our account of the evolution of morality in terms of partner-choice mutualism. We then turn to the cognitive level and the characterization and workings of fairness. In a final section, we discuss the degree to which our fairness-based approach to morality e...
Article
Why human beings act morally? Evolutionary theories of morality are divided into two main positions: on the one hand, those who think that morality has evolved for the sake of the group and predisposed individuals to sacrifice for the collective, and, on the other hand, those who think that morality has been selected to endow individuals with the c...
Article
According to the approach relying on relevance theory, used In this paper, metaphors do not form a natural kind, and "metaphor" is not a concept of theoretical relevance in the study of linguistic communication. Metaphorical meanings are arrived at on the same road as literal, loose, or hyperbolic Interpretations. There is no metaphor specific mech...
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Pourquoi les etres humains se comportent-ils de maniere morale ? Les theories evolutionnistes de la morale se partagent habituellement en deux camps, le camp altruiste selon lequel la morale a evolue pour le bien du groupe et dispose les individus a se sacrifier pour la collectivite, et le camp mutualiste selon lequel la morale a ete selectionnee p...
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MacCallum et al. (1) used an innovative Darwinian method to demonstrate the importance of consumers’ preferences in shaping the evolution of music, a fact that has often been overlooked and deserved attention. Their experimental design, however, emphasizes the role of selection at the expense of other fundamental features of human cultural evolutio...
Article
From an evolutionary point of view, the function of moral behaviour may be to secure a good reputation as a co‐operator. The best way to do so may be to obey genuine moral motivations. Still, one's moral reputation maybe something too important to be entrusted just to one's moral sense. A robust concern for one's reputation is likely to have evolve...
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Issues in Interpreting Anthropological Evidence Fairness: Evolutionary, Cognitive and Anthropological Aspects How Far can the Mutualistic Framework be Extended? Conclusion References
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In 2010, Barhami et al. ([ 1 ][1]) showed that, in perceptual decision-making tasks, “two heads are better than one,” provided they communicate with each other: Multiple decision-makers jointly adopt the more confident judgment, which, in ordinary circumstances, tends to be the more accurate. In
Book
When people speak, their words never fully encode what they mean, and the context is always compatible with a variety of interpretations. How can comprehension ever be achieved? Wilson and Sperber argue that comprehension is a process of inference guided by precise expectations of relevance. What are the relations between the linguistically encoded...
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How are non-declarative sentences understood? How do they differ semantically from their declarative counterparts? Answers to these questions once made direct appeal to the notion of illocutionary force. When they proved unsatisfactory, the fault was diagnosed as a failure to distinguish properly between mood and force. For some years now, efforts...
Chapter
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Traditional approaches to irony Here are some typical examples of verbal irony: I left my bag in the restaurant, and someone kindly walked off with it. In each case, the point of the irony is to indicate that a proposition the speaker might otherwise be taken to endorse (that the party was fun, the person who took her bag behaved kindly, or Sue is...
Article
Groups do better than individuals at reasoning tasks and, in some cases, do even better than any of their individual members. Here is an illustration. In the standard version of the Wason selection task (Wason 1966), the most commonly studied problem in the psychology of reasoning, only about 10 percent of participants give the correct solution, ev...
Chapter
Suppose you overhear someone of whom you know nothing say, ‘It was too slow’. You have no problem understanding the sentence, but how much does that help you understand what the speaker means in uttering it? Very little. You don’t know what the pronoun ‘it’ refers to, what time span is indicated by this use of past tense ‘was’, and from what point...
Chapter
Pragmatics is often described as the study of language use, as opposed to language structure. In this broad sense, it covers a variety of loosely related research programmes ranging from formal studies of deictic expressions to sociological studies of ethnic verbal stereotypes. In a more focused sense – the one we will use here – pragmatics contras...
Article
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Dans l'entretien qu'il a accordé à ThéoRèmes, Dan Sperber revient sur la pertinence des sciences cognitives pour l'étude des religions. Il décrit le cadre naturaliste et cognitiviste qui guide ses recherches, notamment l'affirmation d'une unité de la causalité qui oblige à une méthodologie strictement naturaliste, y compris en sciences sociales. Il...
Article
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Having defended the usefulness of our definition of reasoning, we stress that reasoning is not only for convincing but also for evaluating arguments, and that as such it has an epistemic function. We defend the evidence supporting the theory against several challenges: People are good informal arguers, they reason better in groups, and they have a...
Article
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Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate...
Article
A naturalistic ontology for mechanistic explanations. There are several approaches in the social sciences that seek to provide causal explanations of social phenomena neither in terms of general causal laws nor in terms of case–specific narratives, but, at a middle level of generality, in terms of recurrent causal patterns or “mechanisms” (Hedström...
Article
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Obscurity of expression is considered a flaw. Not so, however, in the speech or writing of intellectual gurus. All too often, what readers do is judge profound what they have failed to grasp. Here I try to explain this “guru effect” by looking at the psychology of trust and interpretation, at the role of authority and argumentation, and at the effe...
Article
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Humans massively depend on communication with others, but this leaves them open to the risk of being accidentally or intentionally misinformed. To ensure that, despite this risk, communication remains advantageous, humans have, we claim, a suite of cognitive mechanisms for epistemic vigilance. Here we outline this claim and consider some of the way...
Article
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J. Henrich et al. (“Markets, religion, community size, and the evolution of fairness and punishment,” Research Articles, 19 March, p. [1480][1]) have shown that market integration and participation in world religion covary with fairness. The authors suggest that their results support cultural
Article
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Social learning mechanisms are usually assumed to explain both the spread and the persistence of cultural behavior. In a recent article, we showed that the fidelity of social learning commonly found in transmission chain experiments is not high enough to explain cultural stability. Here we want to both enrich and qualify this conclusion by looking...
Article
Full-text available
Groups do better at reasoning tasks than individuals, and, in some cases, do even better than any of their individual members. Here is an illustration. In the standard version of Wason selection task (Wason, 1966), the most commonly studied problem in the psychology of reasoning, only about 10% of participants give the correct solution, even though...
Article
Full-text available
While we agree that the cultural imbalance in the recruitment of participants in psychology experiments is highly detrimental, we emphasize the need to complement this criticism with a warning about the "weirdness" of some cross-cultural studies showing seemingly deep cultural differences. We take the example of economic games and suggest that the...
Article
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Most human beliefs are acquired through communication, and so are most misbeliefs. Just like the misbeliefs discussed by McKay & Dennett (M&D), culturally transmitted misbeliefs tend to result from limitations rather than malfunctions of the mechanisms that produce them, and few if any can be argued to be adaptations. However, the mechanisms involv...
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For acquired behaviour to count as cultural, two conditions must be met: it must propagate in a social group, and it must remain stable across generations in the process of propagation. It is commonly assumed that imitation is the mechanism that explains both the spread of animal culture and its stability. We review the literature on transmission c...
Article
Vigilance towards deception is investigated in 3- to-5-year-old children: (i) In Study 1, children as young as 3 years of age prefer the testimony of a benevolent rather than of a malevolent communicator. (ii) In Study 2, only at the age of four do children show understanding of the falsity of a lie uttered by a communicator described as a liar. (i...
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This work examines how people interpret the sentential connective "or", which can be viewed either inclusively (A or B or both) or exclusively (A or B but not both). Following up on prior work concerning quantifiers (Bott & Noveck, 2004; Noveck, 2001; Noveck & Posada, 2003), which shows that the common pragmatic interpretation of "some", some but n...
Article
Le comité de Rédaction de la revue a souhaité marquer le centenaire de Claude Lévi-Strauss par deux contributions qui, chacune à sa manière, témoignent de l’importance d’un maître dont, depuis un demi-siècle la pensée a influencé le devenir de toutes les sciences sociales.
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This chapter proposes a principled distinction between two types of inferences: 'intuitive' and 'reflective' (or reasoning proper). It grounds this distinction in a modular view of the human mind where metarepresentational modules play an important role in explaining the peculiarities of human psychological evolution. The chapter defends the hypoth...
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We argue that there is a continuum of cases without any demarcation between more individual and more cultural information, and that therefore “culture” should be viewed as a property that human mental representations and practices exhibit to a varying degree rather than as a type or a subclass of these representations and practices (or of “informat...
Chapter
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Introduction Are metaphors departures from a norm of literalness? According to classical rhetoric and most later theories, including Gricean pragmatics, they are. No, metaphors are wholly normal, say the Romantic critics of classical rhetoric and a variety of modern scholars ranging from hard-nosed cognitive scientists to postmodern critical theori...
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I am honored and flattered that this old text of mine should have been deemed worth translating and publishing in the Rhetoric Society Quarterly. It was initially intended as a chapter of my book Le symbolisme en général (Hermann, 1974; translated as Rethinking Symbolism by Alice L. Morton, for Cambridge University Press, 1975). But, under the enco...
Article
In two experiments, we investigated whether 13-month-old infants expect agents to behave in a way that is consistent with information to which they have been exposed. Infants watched animations in which an animal was either provided information or prevented from gathering information about the actual location of an object. The animal then searched...
Article
A homályos kifejezésmódot általában hibának tartjuk. Az intellektuális guruk beszédére és írásaira ez azonban nem vonatkozik. (Itt az angol guru szót használom, nem pedig azt a szanszkrit szót, amelyből az eredetileg származik.) Nemcsak arról van szó, hogy a kevéssé kompetens olvasók - persze helyesen -tartózkodnak attól, hogy azzal kapcsolatosan í...
Article
Henrich and Boyd (2002) were the first to propose a formal model of the role of attraction in cultural evolution. They came to the surprising conclusion that, when both attraction and selection are at work, final outcomes are determined by selection alone. This result is based on a determistic view of cultural attraction, different from the probabi...
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Cultural diversity demonstrates the flexibility of the human mind and might be seen as providing compelling evidence against the massively modularity thesis, which seems to imply a high degree of mental rigidity. This chapter argues that a proper understanding of the modular organization of the mind, in particular a distinction between the proper a...
Chapter
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Although a few pioneers in psycholinguistics had taken an experimental approach to various pragmatic issues for more than twenty years, it is only in the past few years that investigators have begun using experimental methods to test pragmatic hypotheses (see Noveck and Sperber 2004). We see this emergence of a proper experimental pragmatics as an...
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The thirtieth anniversary of Richard Dawkins' landmark work provides an opportunity to take stock.
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The idea that cultural evolution exhibits variation, competition, and inheri- tance and therefore can be studied by means of the Darwinian theory of evolu- tion by natural selection is an attractive one. It has been argued by a number of authors (e.g. Aunger 2002, Boyd and Richerson 1985, Campbell 1960, Cavalli- Sforza and Feldman 1981, Dawkins 197...
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This book marks an exciting convergence towards the idea that human culture and cognition are rooted in the character of human social interaction, which is unique in the animal kingdom. Roots of Human Sociality attempts for the first time to explore the underlying properties of social interaction viewed from across many disciplines, and examines th...
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The claim that the human cognitive system tends to allocate resources to the processing of available inputs according to their expected relevance is at the basis of relevance theory (where it constitutes the first, cognitive principle of relevance). The main thesis of this chapter is that this allocation can be achieved without computing expected r...
Article
Atran & Norenzayan (A&N) ask: “Why do agent concepts predominate in religion?” This question presupposes that we have a notion of religion that is (1) well enough defined, and (2) characterized independently of that of supernatural agents. I question these two presuppositions. I argue that “religion” is a family resemblance notion built around the...
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The existence and diversity of human cultures are made possible by our species-specific cognitive capacities. But how? Do cultures emerge and diverge as a result of the deployment, over generations and in different populations, of general abilities to learn, imitate and communicate? What role if any do domain-specific evolved cognitive abilities pl...
Chapter
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This paper outlines the main assumptions of relevance theory (Sperber & Wilson 1985, 1995, 1998, 2002, Wilson & Sperber 2002), an inferential approach to pragmatics. Relevance theory is based on a definition of relevance and two principles of relevance: a Cognitive Principle (that human cognition is geared to the maximisation of relevance), and a C...

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