Comparative Cognition

In 1871, Charles Darwin wrote that there are no fundamental differences in mental abilities between humans and higher mammals. In recent decades, this claim has driven empirical research which has further supported Darwin's hypothesis. However, mental capacities are particularly difficult to study and little progress has been achieved until recent times.  One main objective the Comparative Cognition Group is to explore and understand the biological origins of different mechanisms involved in language and culture. Research includes all types of primates but focuses primarily on non-human primates in their natural habitats in an effort to explicate the evolutionary origins of a range of cognitive processes.

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Cognition, Society, and Culture


The Cognition, Society, and Culture Group concentrates its activity on the processes that underlie the dissemination of beliefs. The group focuses firstly on the different factors that influence trust in the testimony of others, and secondly, on metacognitive mechanisms that regulate confidence in mental representations. Both experiemental and ethnographic research techniques assign a central role to cognitive and social development of children.

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Language, Meaning, and Cognition

Language, Meaning, and Cognition Group photo

The Language, Meaning, and Cognition group is interested in how the mind draws meaning from the linguistic stimuli.  The group is composed of linguists who specialise in semantics, pragmatics, and discourse analysis.  Research by the group ranges from micro analysis in linguistics (tenses, modality, evidentiality) to macro issues in discourse analysis through problems like irony and reported speech.  In recent years, research has focused on the cognitive foundations of persuasion and manipulation language.

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Conversational Coordination

Conversation is a common everyday activity.  Conversations get coordinated in a moment-by-moment fashion by the participants themselves who construct and maintain a shared representation of the conversation.  Our research investigates these coordination processes by analyzing signals used, either linguistic or non-verbal (gestures, gaze), using experimental methods and field studies.  Our research also investigates factors affecting transmission of various beliefs (rumors, urban legends, social representations) and processes of content transformation.

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Eco-Ethology photo

Cooperation within and between species (mutualism) is the central focus of the Eco-ethology research group. The group primarily focuses on marine species, including cleaning mutualisms and collaborative hunting in fish, but also studies cooperation in vervet monekys.  Our research aims to structure cooperation on game theory models and to refine them in collaboration with theoreticians.  Particular attention is paid to the links between game theory, animal cognition, and behavioral endocrinology.  Decision making in the context of social strategies will be an important topic for the future study.

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Pragmatics, deception and social cognition

CC_SC_anthropologie.jpg© Tristan Schmurr - I’m not a liar!

The Pragmatics, deception and social cognition group focuses on the study of pragmatics and its interfaces with other cognitive systems, in particular with Theory of Mind and epistemic vigilance. The group investigates the role of trust and face-management in language interpretation and belief formation. We combine theoretical and experimental approaches to examine a variety of pragmatic phenomena (implicatures, figurative uses of language, commitment markers, etc.), and the social-cognitive foundations of their development from infancy to adulthood.   

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