Luca Surian

Luca Surian
Università degli Studi di Trento | UNITN · Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science

Ph.D.

About

118
Publications
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Introduction
My current projects are mainly concerned with the origins and development of mental state reasoning, moral cognition and pragmatics. We are studying healthy infants, preschoolers, young and old adults as well as children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders. I am also working of the development of object individuation processes.

Publications

Publications (118)
Preprint
Full-text available
For over 35 years, the violation-of-expectation (VOE) paradigm has been used to study the development, during the first three years of life, of a wide range of cognitive expectations, including physical, psychological, biological, sociomoral, numerical, statistical, probabilistic, and linguistic expectations. Surprisingly, despite the paradigm's wi...
Article
Full-text available
Recent research revealed that infants attend to agents’ intentions when they evaluate helping actions. The current study investigated whether infants also consider agents’ intentions when they evaluate distributive actions. In Experiment 1, 9-month-old infants were first shown two failed attempts to perform a distribution. In the “failed equal dist...
Article
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Despite its adaptive value for social life, the emergence and the development of the ability to detect agents that cause aversive interactions and distinguish them from potentially affiliative agents (approachers) has not been investigated. We presented infants with a simple interaction involving two agents: one of them (the "repulser") moved towar...
Article
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Nonliteral language understanding has always been recognized as problematic in autistic individuals. We ran a study on 26 autistic children (mean age = 7.3 years) and 2 comparison groups of typically developing children, 1 matched for chronological age, and 1 of younger peers (mean age = 6.11 years) matched for linguistic abilities, aiming at asses...
Preprint
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Research suggests that moral evaluations change during adulthood. Older adults tend to condemn accidentally harmful acts more than younger adults do. Studies show that such age-related differences in moral evaluation are explained by older adults attributing more negligence to accidental harmdoers. Here we replicate these findings and report the no...
Article
The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) state of emergency has brought about a radical change in the way of teaching. In a questionnaire, we asked 120 teachers from Italian Primary, Middle and High Schools about the advantages and disadvantages of online teaching, the students’ conduct during lessons and the methodologies applied to students with specia...
Preprint
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Additional Control Study for Margoni et al. (2022) “Do children selectively favor leaders and prosocial agents in an economic exchange?”
Article
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Does the history of human morality include major conceptual discontinuities? This is a question that captured the attention of several moral philosophers. Here, we ask a parallel question with respect to the ontogeny of human morality: Do major conceptual discontinuities occur during the ontogeny of moral judgment? The conceptual change view posits...
Article
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Most cooperative interactions involve interpersonal trust and the expectation of mutual reciprocation. Thus, understanding when and how humans acquire interpersonal trust can help unveil the origins and development of children’s cooperative behavior. Here, we investigated whether prior socio-moral information about trading partners modulates the ch...
Article
Rewarding someone who defends the victim of an unjust aggression and punishing someone who chose not to defend her may be very important acts of reciprocation in social life. This study investigates whether 21-month-olds have some expectations concerning such punishing and rewarding actions. Infants were shown simple puppet shows and were tested us...
Preprint
Do children and adults engage in spontaneous Theory of Mind (ToM)? Accumulating evidence from anticipatory looking (AL) studies suggests that they do. But a growing body of studies failed to replicate these original findings. This paper presents the first step of a large-scale multi-lab collaboration dedicated to testing the robustness of spontaneo...
Article
Full-text available
Little is known about how healthy aging affects decision making. Here we studied how the social economic decisions of younger (19−39 years) and older (75−100 years) adults depend on the intentions of agents and the outcomes of their actions. Participants played the role of a responder (R) in an Ultimatum Game. A proposer (P) offered them a specific...
Article
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Previous studies found that people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) perform well on pragmatic inference tests that require the use of the linguistic scale <some, all>. The present study extends previous research by testing two types of implicature: scalar implicatures, based on lexical scales, and ad-hoc implicatures, based on contextual scales....
Article
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Both in philosophy and in cognitive psychology, models of moral judgment posit that individuals take into account both agents’ intentions and actions’ outcomes. The present research focused on a third crucial piece of information, agents’ negligence. In Study 1, participants judged the moral wrongness and punishability of agents’ actions that resul...
Article
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We investigated the effect of presenting items in a foreign language (L2) on scalar-im-plicatures computation. To ensure that L2 processing was more effortful than the processing of the native language (L1), participants were late learners of L2 immersed in an L1 environment and they were presented with oral stimuli under time constraints. If scala...
Article
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It is believed that the approximate estimation of large sets and the exact quantification of small sets (subitizing) are supported by two different systems, the Approximate Number System (ANS) and Object Tracking System (OTS), respectively. It is a current matter of debate whether they are both impaired in developmental dyscalculia (DD), a specific...
Article
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Several studies investigated preschoolers’ ability to compute scalar and ad-hoc implicatures, but only one compared children's performance with both kinds of implicature with the same task, a picture selection task. In Experiment 1 (N = 58, age: 4;2-6;0), we first show that the truth value judgment task, traditionally employed to investigate childr...
Article
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Prominent theories in moral psychology maintain that a core aspect of moral competence is the ability to distinguish moral norms, which derive from universal principles of justice and fairness, and conventional norms, which are contingent on a specific group consensus. The present study investigated the psychological bases of the moral-conventional...
Article
Many studies proposed that infants’ and adults’ looking behaviour suggest a spontaneous and implicit ability to reason about others’ beliefs. It has been argued, however, that these successes are false positives due to domain‐general processes, such as retroactive interference. In the present study, we investigated the domain‐specificity of mechani...
Article
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When asked to say whether an agent is morally good or bad, younger preschoolers tend to rely more on the outcomes of agents’ actions than on agents’ intentions, whereas older children show the opposite bias. Three to five-year-old children were examined with a novel task that facilitated the selection and expression of response by means of response...
Article
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A commentary on: Engelmann, J.M. and Tomasello, M. (2019) Children’s sense of fairness as equal respect. Trends Cogn. Sci. 23, 454–463.
Article
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In four experiments, we tested whether 20-month-old infants are sensitive to violations of procedural impartiality. Participants were shown videos in which help was provided in two different ways. A main character provided help to two other agents either impartially, by helping them at the same time, or in a biased way, by helping one agent almost...
Article
We investigated production of lexical stress in children with and without autism spectrum disorders (ASD), all monolingual Italian speakers. The mean age of the 16 autistic children was 5.73 years and the mean age of the 16 typically developing children was 4.65 years. Picture-naming targets were five trisyllabic words that began with a weak-strong...
Article
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Past research suggested that, due to difficulties in mentalistic reasoning, individuals with autism tend to base their moral judgments on the outcome of agents’ actions rather than on agents’ intentions. In a novel task, aimed at reducing the processing demands required to represent intentions and generate a judgment, autistic children were present...
Article
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We investigated whether there is an association between autistic traits in the broader phenotype and the ability to compute scalar implicatures. Previous studies found that the frequency of autistic traits is higher in students of science than of humanities. Here we recorded the frequency of rejection of underinformative scalar items in students en...
Article
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This study examined age-related differences in the use of negligence information in moral judgment. A group of younger adults (18–36 years) and a group of older adults (75–98 years) were presented with a series of scenarios illustrating cases where an agent unintentionally causes harm. The scenarios also specified whether or not the agent acted wit...
Article
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We investigated whether and how infants link the domains of harm, help and fairness. Fourteen-month-old infants were familiarized with a character that either helped or hindered another agent's attempts to reach the top of a hill. Then, in the test phase they saw the helper or the hinderer carrying out an equal or an unequal distribution toward two...
Article
Infants begin to understand some of the meanings of the adjective good at around thirteen months, but it is not clear when they start to map it to concepts in the moral domain. We investigated infants’ and toddlers’ knowledge of good in the domains of help and fairness. Participants at 20 and 30 months were shown computer animations involving helpf...
Article
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We examined whether 21-month-old infants could distinguish between two broad types of social power: respect-based power exerted by a leader (who might be an authority figure with legitimate power, a prestigious individual with merited power, or some combination thereof) and fear-based power exerted by a bully. Infants first saw three protagonists i...
Article
We investigated whether moral violations involving harm selectively elicit anger, whereas purity violations selectively elicit disgust, as predicted by the Moral Foundations Theory (MFT). We analysed participants’ spontaneous facial expressions as they listened to scenarios depicting moral violations of harm and purity. As predicted by MFT, anger r...
Article
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In the last decade, numerous studies reported that infants prefer prosocial agents (those who provide help, comfort or fairness in distributive actions) to antisocial agents (those who harm others or distribute goods unfairly). We meta-analyzed the results of published and unpublished studies on infants aged 4-32 months and estimated that approxima...
Article
We investigated 21-month-olds' ability to help others and share some resources with them on the basis of their past behavior. Infants were presented with real-life events in which a fair actress distributed her resources equally among two puppets, while an unfair actress allocated her resources only to one of the puppets. Then, the actresses played...
Article
Full-text available
Younger (21-39 years) and older (63-90 years) adults were presented with scenarios illustrating either harmful or helpful actions. Each scenario provided information about the agent's intention, either neutral or valenced (harmful/helpful), and the outcome of his or her action, either neutral or valenced. Participants were asked to rate how morally...
Article
The ability to attend to agents' deservingness and merit is a fundamental aspect of human moral judgment. To investigate the origins of this ability, we recorded 15- and 20-month-old infants’ reactions to deservingness congruent and incongruent distributions performed towards pairs of helping and hindering agents. Twenty-month-old infants looked lo...
Article
In three studies we found that reading information in a foreign language can suppress common superstitious beliefs. Participants read scenarios either in their native or a foreign language. In each scenario, participants were asked to imagine performing an action (e.g., submitting a job application) under a superstitious circumstance (e.g., broken...
Article
Full-text available
Previous research showed that infants and toddlers are inclined to help prosocial agents and assign a positive valence to fair distributions. Also, they expect that positive and negative actions directed toward distributors will conform to reciprocity principles. This study investigates whether toddlers are selective in helping others, as a functio...
Article
Full-text available
We review the literature on children’s growing sensitivity to intention in attributing moral qualities, both in typical and atypical development. A large number of studies show that, although an early capacity to assess intentions is already present in infancy, only by the age of five-six children’s moral judgments rely more on intention than on ex...
Article
Full-text available
For the first time, we assessed 5-year-old children's choices between two different ways of extending ethics to natural entities: the anthropocentric and the biocentric views. For the former, nature has to be preserved because it helps humans' interests, for the latter it has to be preserved because of its intrinsic value. Children evaluated the mo...
Article
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During preschool years, children's disapprovals of harming actions increasingly rely on intention rather than outcome. Here we studied for the first time whether a similar outcome-to-intent shift occurs in judgments of helping actions. Children aged four-to-eight (N = 404) were asked to evaluate the goodness and deserved reward of attempted and acc...
Article
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[This corrects the article on p. 1478 in vol. 7, PMID: 27729894.].
Article
Volk, Köhler, and Pudelko (JIBS, 45, 2014, 862–885) propose that foreign language use depletes cognitive resources, thus hindering individual decision making and self-regulation. The present commentary highlights studies showing that foreign language use can also improve decision making and self-regulation. We propose that these benefits derive fro...
Article
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Do children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) develop the ability to take into account an agent's mental states when they are judging the morality of his or her actions? The present article aims to answer this question by reviewing recent evidence on moral reasoning on children with autism and typical development. A basic moral judgment (e.g.,...
Article
We examine whether the use of a foreign language, as opposed to the native language, influences the relative weight intentions versus outcomes carry in moral evaluations. In Study 1, participants were presented with actions that had positive outcomes but were motivated by dubious intentions, while in Study 2 with actions that had negative outcomes...
Article
Full-text available
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that mainly affects social interaction and communication. Evidence from behavioral and functional MRI studies supports the hypothesis that dysfunctional mechanisms involving social brain structures play a major role in autistic symptomatology. However, the investigation of anatomical abnormalities in the brai...
Article
Full-text available
When preschoolers evaluate actions and agents, they typically neglect agents’ intentions and focus on action outcomes instead. By contrast, intentions count much more than outcomes for older children and adults. This phenomenon has traditionally been seen as evidence of a developmental change in children’s concept of what is morally good and bad. H...
Article
This research examined whether 10-month-old infants expect agents to perform equal distribution of resources. In Experiment 1, infants saw a distributor performing either an equal distribution where one strawberry was given to each of two recipients, or an unequal distribution that favored one of the recipients. Infants looked longer at the unequal...
Poster
Full-text available
An innovative method that uses Independent Component Analysis known as Source-Based Morphometry (SBM) was applied for the first time to detect maximally independent networks of gray matter in autistic adults and matched controls. SBM is a multivariate and data-driven approach that pools information across different voxels and identifies unpredicted...
Article
Full-text available
We investigated whether and why the use of a foreign language influences moral judgment. We studied the trolley and footbridge dilemmas, which propose an action that involves killing one individual to save five. In line with prior work, the use of a foreign language increased the endorsement of such consequentialist actions for the footbridge dilem...
Article
Full-text available
We investigated whether and how processing information in a foreign language as opposed to the native language affects moral judgments. Participants judged the moral wrongness of several private actions, such as consensual incest, that were depicted as harmless and presented in either the native or a foreign language. The use of a foreign language...
Conference Paper
Recent advances in Emotion Regulation science showed that emotions can be nicely regulated by different regulation strategies. In this talk I aim at showing recent advances on social emotion regulation (SER), a particular kind of emotion regulation applied to interpersonal emotions derived from interactive situations. To this aim, I will present 3...
Article
Full-text available
Three experiments provide evidence of an incipient sense of fairness in preverbal infants. Ten-month-old infants were shown cartoon videos with two agents, the 'donors', who distributed resources to two identical recipients. One donor always distributed the goods equally, while the other performed unequal distributions by giving everything to one r...
Article
Deaf children of hearing parents show a protracted delay in performance on ‘theory of mind’ measures that suggests they encounter difficulties in acquiring knowledge of false beliefs and other mental states. Considerable evidence indicates that children's early experience of adults’ mental state talk predicts their later social-cognitive developmen...
Article
Full-text available
Specific Language Impairment (SLI) is characterized by selective delays in numerous aspects of language and communication development. The aim of this study was to investigate the ability to evaluate the conversational violations, a core aspect of pragmatic competence, in preschoolers with SLI. To assess this skill, the Conversational Violation Tes...
Article
Based on anticipatory looking and reactions to violations of expected events, infants have been credited with 'theory of mind' (ToM) knowledge that a person's search behaviour for an object will be guided by true or false beliefs about the object's location. However, little is known about the preconditions for looking patterns consistent with belie...
Article
Full-text available
Two experiments (N=136) studied how 4- to 6-month-olds perceive a simple schematic event, seen as goal-directed action and reaction from 3 years of age. In our causal reaction event, a red square moved toward a blue square, stopping prior to contact. Blue began to move away before red stopped, so that both briefly moved simultaneously at a distance...
Article
Full-text available
Prior research on implicit mind-reading skills has focussed on how infants anticipate other persons' actions. This study investigated whether 11- and 17-month-olds spontaneously attribute false beliefs (FB) even to a simple animated geometric shape. Infants were shown a triangle chasing a disk through a tunnel. Using an eye-tracker, we found that 1...
Article
This chapter first reviews the evidence about atypical access to language in children with autism. It then examines some core aspects of their deficits in mental state attribution, communication, and language acquisition. Finally, it presents two new studies that compare word learning in children with autism with that of typically developing childr...
Book
One of the most important questions about children's development involves how knowledge acquisition depends on the effect of language experience. To what extent, and in what ways, is a child's cognitive development influenced by their early experience of, and access to, language? Likewise, what are the effects on development of impaired access to l...
Article
Full-text available
The problem of how to distribute available resources among members of a group is a central aspect of social life. Adults react negatively to inequitable distributions and several studies have reported negative reactions to inequity also in non-human primates and dogs. We report two experiments on infants' reactions to equal and unequal distribution...
Article
We have found that moral considerations interact with belief ascription in determining intentionality judgment. We attribute this finding to a differential availability of plausible counterfactual alternatives that undo the negative side-effect of an action. We conclude that Knobe's thesis does not account for processes by which counterfactuals are...
Article
Full-text available
Previous studies on patients with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and diffuse brain damages have reported selective deficits in mental states reasoning or 'Theory of Mind' (ToM). The goal of the current study is to investigate the fundamental role of the prefrontal cortex in two ToM components: inferential reasoning and social perception. Selective...
Article
Full-text available
Do moral appraisals shape judgments of intentionality? A traditional view is that individuals first evaluate whether an action has been carried out intentionally. Then they use this evaluation as input for their moral judgments. Recent studies, however, have shown that individuals’ moral appraisals can also influence their intentionality attributio...
Article
According to the two-visual-system hypothesis (Milner and Goodale, 1995), after V1 the visual system splits into “vision for action” and “vision for perception” modules. Perceptual modules may exhibit characteristic developmental pace and sequencing (Fodor, 1983). To test this hypothesis, we investigated two spatial tasks in typically developing sc...
Article
In three experiments involving 207 preschoolers and 28 adults, we investigated the extent to which young children base moral judgments of actions aimed to protect others on utilitarian principles. When asked to judge the rightness of intervening to hurt one person in order to save five others, the large majority of children aged 3 to 5 years advoca...