Research group cognition society culture

Our research team, resolutely interdisciplinary, pointedly includes PhD students, post-doctoral students, and researchers with various scientific backgrounds in order to better understand human being's social nature. Trust in other people's opinions, socialisation, early social capabilities, acquisition and belief alteration, materialisation of interests and passions, as well as metacognition, all represent fundamental fields of inquiry.

A considerable amount of our beliefs depend on other people's testimony. Our senses and intelligence cannot tell us much about Napoleon's destiny, or about electron ellipses or about the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Given this epistemic dependance, how should we then evaluate others’ statements? This matter is precisely what our research team has been working on for several years now. A long term collaboration with Paul Harris (Harvard) and Melissa Koenig (University of Minnesota) has led to our study of the way young children evaluate the truth of others’ words. Together with Dan Sperber (CNRS and Central European University), we set up a paradigm known as "Epistemic Awareness", which questions the common acceptance of children regarded as "blank pages", neutrally absorbing elements of their cultural environment. Therefore our goal is to highlight young children's cognitive and affective strategies when appraising what is being communicated to them.

Most sociologists consider socialisation as an essential period during which individuals "enter society". If babies don’t adopt most of the norms and values of their community, it would probably disappear due to a lack of  continuity: yet this process is rarely studied in these terms. Some of our team's efforts consist in closely observing interactions between individuals "who know more" and those who should learn from them. This transmission pattern is examined within the boundaries of ethnographic methodology, on a vertical (parents > children) as well as horizontal basis (between pre-schoolers). A specifically striking phenomenon is "interest": how can one explain children's attraction towards particular objects or events rather than to others? Furthermore, how does the presence and reaction of other people determine the child’s interest in certain things? How do human passions come to life?

For too long, social sciences and cognitive sciences (cognitive psychology, development psychology, neuroscience) have evolved in parallel. But it is largely recognised nowadays that our species’ cognitive capacities are in part the result of long term significant social pressures. With Laurence Kaufmann (University of Lausanne), we are developing the idea that human beings are "naturally" pre-disposed to attend to and make sense of elements encountered in their social environment, i.e. rules, group identity, hierarchy. Enriched by methodologies specific to developmental psychology, we are currently identifying the cognitive components of what we refer to as "naive sociology".


Aside from the above empirical research, we are also active in theoretical matters. For further reading, please refer to our publication (in French only): La Sociologie cognitive. Fabrice Clément, Laurence Kaufmann (eds). Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, Paris. 2011

The concept of belief is dual faceted: it refers on the one hand to individual mental processes determining what should be considered true and, on the other hand, to social representations widely shared among community members. Our team aims to 1)  determine the nature of mental processes underpinning our beliefs 2) utilise contemporary knowledge in cognitive science to better comprehend how some concepts spread and become accepted culture-wide, and 3) analyse situations which lead individuals to agree with obviously erroneous propositions, or doubtful arguments, in order to highlight the mechanisms of credulity. Thanks to a european project carried out in collaboration with Joëlle Proust (CNRS), it will be possible to develop our understanding of the metacognitive features specific to beliefs.

A télécharger

Confiance et témoignage

To Trust or not to Trust?





Sociologie cognitive

Social cognition