Cognitive Development, Part VI: Social Cognition

Autism, and other disorders that impede social awareness, was also a theme of the chapter. I enjoyed the authors breakdown into the conditions of existence, need, and inference (for which they cite Flavell, 1974, among others). I was a pretty clueless kid, so I spent much of my childhood knowing that other people thought, and needing to know their thoughts, but relatively unable to do the “mind reading” (193). Older research into very young children confused theory of mind with manipulative competence. Very young children, and perhaps all sufferers of autism-spectrum disorders, may be perfectly aware that other human beings possess agency and have emotional states or something like it, but being able to do something about it is something else entirely.

As in other chapters, population-level human diversity is ignored. Without going into a rant, the authors ignore population level genetic diversity in explaining differences in development between Indians and Americans (J. Miller, 1987). Likewise, a contrast between the autonomy-interdependency focus (Markus & Katiyama, 1991) contrasts Japanese to Americans culturally, rather than genetically. While I bring up the former study merely to show how conclusions are jumped to in the current academic environment, the conclusion of the latter is downright troubling as the genetic variant responsible for novelty-seeking, attention-deficit,, and other (presumably non harmonious) behaviors exists at many times the Japanese rate in America (Ding, 2002). The more reasonable people prefer to ignore scientific findings, the more those findings will be shared in the public’s perception by unreasonable people. Now that we live in a world where descent with modification by means of natural selection has been observed with a population that did not even exist before Christopher Columbus (Tang, et al., 2007), maintaining populations separated for thousands of years cannot vary in more than just their environment is naïve.

My preferred model for how people interact with each other, to move on, is the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act, or OODA, loop (Fadok, Boyd, & Warden, 1995). The OODA loop was designed for life-critical operations (von Lubitz, Carrasco, Levine, & Richir, 2004), and so fits in with “self-preservation” as one of the goals of social cognition (Flavell, Miller, & Flavell, 2002). OODA, “a model of decision making than a model of individual and organizational learning and adaptation” (Osinga, 2007 5). The OODA view informs my bias against thoughtful decision making, as it allows decision-making to be skipped entirely if one’s orientation can inform ones action through “implicit guidance and control” (McCrabb, 2002). Like genetic population differences, the reason the OODA loop does not appear in this book is understandable: it is not the subject of ongoing academic research. While the OODA model hosts a productive research program within the military, such literature is obviously of limited to use child cognitive psychologists.

To conclude: rationality is valuable, mind reading is hard, populations differ, and my favorite model of social cognition is not particularly academic. Sigh. So much to learn, so little time.

Cognitive Development, a tdaxp series
1. Introduction
2. Infant Perception
3. Infant Cognition
4. Representation and Concepts
5. Reasoning and Problem Solving
6. Social Cognition
7. Memory
8. Language
9. Questions and Problems
10. Bibliography

2 thoughts on “Cognitive Development, Part VI: Social Cognition”

    By Christopher Badcock

    “Mental disorders can be located along a dimension of mentalism (aka ‘theory-ofmind,’ ‘folk-psychology’ or ‘people skills’) defined as our evolved ability to comprehend others’ actions and behaviour in purely mental terms (such as intention, belief, desire, emotion etc.). Autistics, notoriously, are poor where mentalistic skills like inferring intention or understanding false belief are concerned. ASDs therefore belong on the hypo-mentalistic side of the continuum. However, what we would now term psychotic spectrum disorders (PSDs) can be typified as hyper-mentalistic: paranoid schizophrenics, for example, symptomatically over-interpret intention either positively in erotomania (delusions that others are in love with you) or negatively in delusions of persecution. They also entertain bizarre false beliefs about themselves and others, and generally exhibit excessive mentalism, often enshrined in quasi-religious or mystical delusions. Indeed, the symptoms and signs of autism and psychoses like paranoid schizophrenia exhibit a remarkable pattern of antithesis:”

  2. Lere,

    Thanks for the pointer to the book!

    I think it’s too simplistic to say that autistic spectrum disorder is merely a mentalist spectrum disorder… I think the passage confuses “mentalism” with the personality trait of Neuroticism[1].

    Still, I like the idea of reducing a number of diseases to relatively few conceptual causes.

    The 21st century will be the century of the brain and the mind.


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