, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 459–475 | Cite as

Wired for Society: Cognizing Pathways to Society and Culture

  • Laurence KaufmannEmail author
  • Fabrice Clément


While cognitive scientists increase their tentative incursions in the social domains traditionally reserved for social scientists, most sociologists and anthropologists keep decrying those attempts as reductionist or, at least, irrelevant. In this paper, we argue that collaboration between social and cognitive sciences is necessary to understand the impact of the social environment on the shaping of our mind. More specifically, we dwell on the cognitive strategies and early-developing deontic expectations, termed naïve sociology, which enable well-adapted individuals to constitute, maintain and understand basic social relationships. In order to specify the way in which the demanding character of typical social relationships can be recognized in situ, we introduce the concept of “deontic affordances”. Finally, we shed light on the continuum that might relate a primitive naïve sociology, dedicated to the processing of invariant properties of the social life and a mature naïve sociology, necessary for dealing with the variable properties of cultural forms of life.


Cognitive science Naïve sociology Deontic affordances Social relationships 



The authors are grateful to Hugo Mercier for his fruitful remarks on the manuscript. We also thank an anonymous reviewer for his/her very helpful suggestions and criticisms.


  1. Altmann J (1974) Observational study of behavior: sampling methods. Behaviour 49:227–267Google Scholar
  2. Anderson B (1983) Imagined communities. Verso, LondonGoogle Scholar
  3. Andrews K (2009) Understanding norms without a theory of mind. Inquiry 52(5):433–448Google Scholar
  4. Astington JW (2004) Bridging the gap between theory of mind and moral reasoning. New Dir Child Adolesc Dev 103:63–72Google Scholar
  5. Atran S (1998) Folk biology and the anthropology of science: cognitive universals and cultural particulars. Behav Brain Sci 21(4):547–609Google Scholar
  6. Baillargeon R (1987) Object permanence in 31/2 and 41/2-months-old children. Dev Psychol 23:655–664Google Scholar
  7. Baillargeon R, Carey S (2012) Core cognition and beyond: the acquisition of physical and numerical knowledge. In: Pauen S (ed) Early childhood development and later outcome. Cambridge University Press, London, pp 33–65Google Scholar
  8. Baron-Cohen S, Tager-Flusberg H, Cohen DJ (eds) (2000) Understanding other minds. Perspectives from autism. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  9. Bateson G (1972) Steps to an ecology of mind. Chandler, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  10. Beier JS, Carpenter M, Tomasello M (2010) Young children’s understanding of third-party social relationships. In: Poster presented at the XVIIth biennial international conference on infant studies, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  11. Bekoff M, Beyers JA (1998) Intentional communication and social play: how and why animals negotiate and agree to play. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  12. Bloch M (2008) Why religion is nothing special but is central. Philos Trans R Soc B 363(1499):2055–2061Google Scholar
  13. Bourdieu P (1979) La distinction. Minuit, ParisGoogle Scholar
  14. Bovet D, Washburn DA (2003) Rhesus macaques (macaca mulatta) categorize unknown conspecifics according to their dominance relations. J Comp Psychol 117(4):400–405Google Scholar
  15. Bronner G (2006) L’acteur social est-il (déjà) soluble dans les neurosciences ? L’Année sociologique 56(2):331–352Google Scholar
  16. Bruner JS, Anglin JM (1974) Beyond the information given: studies in the psychology of knowing. G. Allen and Unwin, LondonGoogle Scholar
  17. Carassa A, Colombetti M (2009) Joint meaning. J Pragmat 41(9):1837–1854Google Scholar
  18. Carey SE, Spelke E (1996) Science and core knowledge. Philos Sci 63(4):515–533Google Scholar
  19. Charafeddine R, Mercier H, Clément F, Kaufmann L, Reboul A, Van der Henst J-B (submitted) Children’s ability to recognize dominance and attitudes towards dominant individualsGoogle Scholar
  20. Cheney DL, Seyfarth RMS (1990) How monkeys see the world, inside the mind of another species. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  21. Cheney DL, Seyfarth RMS (2007) Baboon metaphysics. The evolution of a social mind. Chicago University Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  22. Clément F (2003) L′esprit ensorcelé. Les racines cognitives de la sorcellerie, Terrain 41:121–136Google Scholar
  23. Clément F, Bernard S, Kaufmann L (2011) Social cognition is not reducible to theory of mind. When children use deontic rules to predict others’ behaviors. Br J Dev Psychol 29(4):910–928Google Scholar
  24. Cosmides L, Tooby J (1994) Origins of domain specificity: the evolution of functional organization. In: Hirschfeld LA, Gelman SA (eds) Mapping the mind. Domain specificity in cognition and culture. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 85–116Google Scholar
  25. Cosmides L, Tooby J, Kurzban R (2003) Perceptions of race. Trends Cogn Sci 7(4):173–179Google Scholar
  26. Cosmides L, Tooby J, Fiddick L, Bryant GA (2005) Detecting cheaters. Trends Cogn Sci 9(11):505–551Google Scholar
  27. Cummins DD (1999) Cheater detection is modified by social rank: the impact of dominance on the evolution of cognitive functions. Evol Hum Behav 20(4):229-248Google Scholar
  28. Dehaene S, Spelke E, Pinel P, Stanescu R, Tsivkin S (1999) Sources of mathematical thinking: behavioral and brain-imaging evidence. Science 284:970Google Scholar
  29. Dennett D (1996) Kinds of mind. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  30. Descombes V (1996) Les institutions du sens. Minuit, ParisGoogle Scholar
  31. Dezecache G, Conty L, Grèzes J (2013) Social affordances: is the mirror neuron system involved? Commentary on target article of Schilbach and colleagues. Behav Brain Sci 36(4):417–418Google Scholar
  32. Diesendruck G, Eldror E (2011) What children infer from social categories. Cogn Dev 26(2):118–126Google Scholar
  33. Dilthey W (1883/1999) Critique de la raison historique: introduction aux sciences de l’esprit et autres textes. Cerf, ParisGoogle Scholar
  34. Dokic J (2010) Affordances and the sense of joint agency. In: Balconi M (ed) Neuropsychology of the sense of agency. Springer, Milan, pp 23–43Google Scholar
  35. Dretske F (1988) Explaining behavior: reasons in a world of causes. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  36. Dunbar RIM (2003) Evolution of the social brain. Science 302(5648):1160–1161Google Scholar
  37. Dunbar R, Knight C, Power C (eds) (1999) The evolution of culture: an interdisciplinary view. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp 1–11Google Scholar
  38. Dunham Y, Baron AS, Banaji MR (2008) The development of implicit intergroup cognition. Trends Cogn Sci 12:248–253Google Scholar
  39. Durkheim E (1991) [1912] Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse. Librairie Générale Française, ParisGoogle Scholar
  40. Favret-Saada J (1977) Les Mots, la mort, les sorts: la sorcellerie dans le bocage. Gallimard, ParisGoogle Scholar
  41. Favret-Saada J (2009) Désorceler. L’Olivier, ParisGoogle Scholar
  42. Fernald A, Morikawa H (1993) Common themes and cultural variations in Japanese and American mothers’ speech to infants. Child Dev 64:637–656Google Scholar
  43. Fiske AP (1992) The four elementary forms of sociality: framework for a unified theory of social relations. Psychol Rev 99(4):689–723Google Scholar
  44. Fiske AP (2005) Social relations: culture, development, natural selection, cognition, the brain, and pathology. In: Van Lange PAM (ed) Bridging social psychology: the benefits of transdisciplinary approaches. Erlbaum, Mahwah, pp 293–300Google Scholar
  45. Fiske AP, Fiske ST (2007) Social relationships in our species and cultures. In: Kitayama S, Cohen D (eds) Handbook of cultural psychology, Guilford, New York, pp 283–306Google Scholar
  46. Flack JC, Jeannotte LA, de Waal FBM (2004) Play signaling and the perception of social rules by juvenile chimpanzees (pan troglodytes). J Comp Psychol 118(2):149–150Google Scholar
  47. Freeman JB, Rule NO, Adams RB, Ambady N (2009) Culture shapes a mesolimbic response to signals of dominance and subordination that associates with behavior. Neuroimage 47:353–359Google Scholar
  48. Gärdenfors P (1996) Cued and detached representations in animal cognition. Behav Process 36:263–273Google Scholar
  49. Garfinkel H (1967) Studies in ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJGoogle Scholar
  50. Gelman R, Williams EM (1998) Enabling constraints for cognitive development and learning: domain specificity and epigenesis. In: Kuhn D, Siegler RS (eds) Handbook of child psychology, vol II, 5th edn. Wiley, New York, pp 575–630Google Scholar
  51. Gibson J (1979) The ecological approach to visual perception. Houghton Mifflin, BostonGoogle Scholar
  52. Ginsborg H (2011) Primitive normativity and skepticism about rules. J Philos 108(5):227–254Google Scholar
  53. Goldie P (2007) Seeing what is the kind thing to do: perception and emotion in morality. Dialectica 61(3):347–361Google Scholar
  54. Good JM (2007) The affordances for social psychology of the ecological approach to social knowing. Theory Psychol 17:265–295Google Scholar
  55. Grosenick L, Clement TS, Fernald RD (2007) Fish can infer social rank by observation alone. Nature 445:429–432Google Scholar
  56. Hacking I (1999) The social construction of what?. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MassGoogle Scholar
  57. Harris PL (2000) The work of the imagination. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  58. Harris PL (2006) Social cognition. In: Damon W, Lerner RM, Kuhn D, Siegler R (eds) Handbook of child psychology, vol 2, 6th edn. New York, Wiley, pp 811–856Google Scholar
  59. Haslam N (ed) (2004) Relational models theory: a contemporary overview. Lawrence Erlbaum, NJGoogle Scholar
  60. Haslam N, Fiske AP (2004) Social expertise: theory of mind or theory of relationships? In: Haslam N (ed) Relational models theory: a contemporary overview. Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ, pp 147–163Google Scholar
  61. Hauser MD, Marler P (1993) Food-associated calls in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta): II. Costs and benefits of call production and suppression. Behav Ecol 4:206–212Google Scholar
  62. Havelange V (1998) Le social en débat: cognition ou interprétation. Intellectica 26–27:9–55Google Scholar
  63. Hawley PH (1999) The ontogenesis of social dominance: a strategy-based evolutionary perspective. Dev Rev 19:97–132Google Scholar
  64. Heft H (1989) Affordances and the body: an intentional analysis of Gibson’s ecological approach to visual perception. J Theory Soc Behav 19(1):1–30Google Scholar
  65. Herrmann E, Call J, Hernàndez-Lloreda MV, Hare B, Tomasello M (2007) Humans have evolved specialized skills of social cognition: the cultural intelligence hypothesis. Science 317:1360–1366Google Scholar
  66. Hinde RA (1976) Interactions, relationships and social structure. Man 11:1–17Google Scholar
  67. Hirschfeld LA (1995) Do children have a theory of race? Cognition 54:209–252Google Scholar
  68. Hirschfeld LA (1999) Naïve sociology. In: Wilson R, Keil F (eds) The MIT encyclopedia of the cognitive sciences. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 579–580Google Scholar
  69. Hirschfeld LA (2001) On a folk theory of society: children, evolution, and mental representations of social groups. Pers Soc Psychol Rev 5:107–117Google Scholar
  70. Hirschfeld LA (2006) Who needs a theory of mind. In: Viale R, Andler D, Hirschfeld L (eds) Biological and cultural biases of human inference. Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah, NJ, pp 131–157Google Scholar
  71. Hirschfeld LA, Gelman SA (1994) Mapping the mind. Domain specificity in cognition and culture. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  72. Hirst P, Wooley P (1982) Social relations and human attributes. Tavistock, LondonGoogle Scholar
  73. Humphrey NK (1976) The social function of intellect. In: Bateson PPG, Hinde RA (eds) Growing points in ethology. Cambridge University, Cambridge, pp 303–317Google Scholar
  74. Ingold T (2001) From the transmission of representations to the education of attention. In: Whitehouse H (ed) The debated mind. Berg, New York, pp 113–153Google Scholar
  75. Jackendoff RS (1992) Languages of the mind: essays on mental representation. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  76. Jackendoff RS (1994) Patterns in the mind. Language and human nature. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  77. Jackendoff RS (1999) The natural logic of rights and obligations. In: Jackendoff R, Bloom P (eds) Language, logic, and concepts: essays in memory of John Macnamara. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 67–95Google Scholar
  78. Jackendoff RS (2007) Language, consciousness, culture: essays on mental structure. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  79. Kaufmann L (2011) Social minds. In: Jarvie I, Zamora J (eds) The sage handbook of the philosophy of social sciences. Sage, London, pp 153–180Google Scholar
  80. Kaufmann L, Clément F (2003) La sociologie est-elle un savoir infus? De la nature sociale de l’architecture cognitive. Intellectica 36(37):421–457Google Scholar
  81. Kaufmann L, Cordonier L (2011). Vers un naturalisme social. Sociologies.
  82. Keil F (1998) Cognitive science and the origins of thought and knowledge. In: Damon W, Lerner RM (eds) Handbook of child psychology, vol I. Wiley, New York, pp 341–413Google Scholar
  83. Kinzler K, Spelke E (2011) Do infants show social preferences for people differing in race? Cognition 119(1):1–9Google Scholar
  84. Knight N, Nisbett RE (2007) Culture, class and cognition: evidence from Italy. J Cogn Cult 7:283–291Google Scholar
  85. Koffka K (1935) Principles of Gestalt psychology. Lund Humphries, LondonGoogle Scholar
  86. Kroeber A, Parsons T (1958) The concept of culture and the social system. Am Sociol Rev 23(5):582–583Google Scholar
  87. Kurzban R, Tooby J, Cosmides L (2001) Can race be erased? Coalitional computation and social categorization. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 98:15387–15392Google Scholar
  88. Landman J (1996) Social control of “negative” emotions: the case of regret. In: Harré R, Parrott WG (eds) Emotions: social, cultural and biological dimensions. Sage, London, pp 89–116Google Scholar
  89. Leslie AM (1991) Theory of mind impairment in autism. In: Whiten A (ed) Natural theories of mind: evolution, development, and simulation of everyday mindreading. Basil Blackwell, Cambridge, MA, pp 63–78Google Scholar
  90. Levy R (1973) Tahitians: mind and experience in the Society Islands. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  91. Liebal K, Call J (2012) The origins of non-human primates’ manual gestures. Philos Trans R Soc B 367(1585):118–128Google Scholar
  92. Loveland K (1991) Social affordances and interaction II: autism and the affordances of the human environment. Ecol Psychol 3:99–119Google Scholar
  93. Mac Dowell J (1978) Are moral requirement hypothetical imperatives? Proc Aristot Soc 52:13–29Google Scholar
  94. Malinowski B (1922) Argonauts of the western Pacific: an account of native enterprise and adventure in the archipelagos of Melanesian New Guinea. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  95. Mascaro O, Csibra G (2012) Representation of stable social dominance relations by human infants. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109(18):6862–6867Google Scholar
  96. Matsuzawa T (ed) (2008) Primate origins of human cognition and behavior. Springer, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  97. Mauss M (1968) Sociologie et anthropologie. PUF, ParisGoogle Scholar
  98. Melis AP, Warneken F, Jensen K, Schneider A, Call J, Tomasello M (2011) Chimpanzees help conspecifics to obtain food and non-food items. Proc R Soc Biol 278:1405–1413Google Scholar
  99. Mercier H, Sperber D (2009) Intuitive and reflective inferences. In: Evans J, Frankish K (eds) In two minds: dual processes and beyond. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 149–170Google Scholar
  100. Moskowitz DS, Suh EJ, Desaulniers J (1994) Situational influences on gender differences in agency and communion. J Pers Soc Psychol 66:753–761Google Scholar
  101. Muller MN, Mitani JC (2005) Conflict and cooperation in wild chimpanzees. Adv Study Behav 35:275–331Google Scholar
  102. Nisbett R (2003) The geography of thought: how Asians and westerners think differently… and why. Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  103. Nisbett R, Peng K, Choi I, Norenzayan A (2001) Culture and systems of thought. Psychol Rev 108:291–310Google Scholar
  104. Nucci L (2001) Education in the moral domain. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  105. Ogien A (2011) Les sciences cognitives ne sont pas des sciences humaines. Sociologies.
  106. Paz-y-Miño GC, Bond AB, Kamil A, Balda RP (2004) Pinyon jays use transitive inference to predict social dominance. Nature 430:778–781Google Scholar
  107. Pinker S (2002) The blank slate. Viking, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  108. Quéré L (2011) De vieilles obsessions sous des habits neufs? Sociologies.
  109. Rhodes M (2012) Naïve theories of social groups. Child Dev 83:1900–1916Google Scholar
  110. Rudolf von Rohr C, Burkart JM, van Schaik CP (2011) Evolutionary precursors of social norms in chimpanzees: a new approach. Biol Philos 26(1):1–30Google Scholar
  111. Sanders JT (1997) An ontology of affordances. Ecol Psychol 9:97–112Google Scholar
  112. Schaeffer J-M (2007) La fin de l’exception humaine. Gallimard, ParisGoogle Scholar
  113. Schmidt RC (2007) Scaffolds for social meaning. Ecol Psychol 19:137–151Google Scholar
  114. Searle JR (1995) The construction of social reality. The Penguin Press, LondonGoogle Scholar
  115. Searle J (2010) Making the social world. The structure of human civilization. Oxford University, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  116. Shutts K, Kinzler KD, Katz RC, Tredoux C, Spelke ES (2011) Race preferences in children: insights from South Africa. Dev Sci 14(6):1283–1291Google Scholar
  117. Silk JB (1999) Male bonnet macaques use information about third-party rank relationships to recruit allies. Anim Behav 58:45–51Google Scholar
  118. Simons DJ, Chabris CF (1999) Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. Perception 28:1059–1074Google Scholar
  119. Slocombe KE, Kaller T, Call J, Zuberbühler K (2010) Chimpanzees extract social information from agonistic screams. PLoS One 5:e11473Google Scholar
  120. Spaulding S (2010) Embodied cognition and mindreading. Mind Lang 25:119–140Google Scholar
  121. Spelke E (1994) Initial knowledge: six suggestions. Cognition 50:431–445Google Scholar
  122. Spelke ES, Kinzler KD (2007) Core knowledge. Dev Sci 10(1):89–96Google Scholar
  123. Spelke E, Bernier EP, Skerry AE (2013) Core social cognition. In: Mahzarin R, Banaji MR, Gelman SA (eds) Navigating the social world. What infants, children, and other species can teach us. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 11–16Google Scholar
  124. Sperber D, Premack D, Premack AJ (1995) Causal cognition: a multidisciplinary debate. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  125. Stavros Valenti S, Gold JM (1991) Social affordances and interaction I: introduction. Ecol Psychol 3:77–98Google Scholar
  126. Strayer FF, Strayer J (1976) An ethological analysis of social agonism and dominance relations among preschool children. Child Dev 47(4):980–989Google Scholar
  127. Sultanescu O, Andrews K (2013) Are apes’ responses to pointing gestures intentional? Humana Mente J Philos Stud 24:53–77Google Scholar
  128. Thomsen L, Carey S (2013) Core cognition of social relations. In: Banaji MR, Gelman SA (eds) Navigating the social world: what infants, children and other species can teach us. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  129. Thomsen L, Frankenhuis WE, Ingold-Smith MC, Carey S (2011) Big and mighty: preverbal infants mentally represent social dominance. Science 331(6016):477Google Scholar
  130. Tiddi B, Aureli F, Polizzi di Sorrentino E, Janson C, Schino G (2011) Grooming for tolerance? Two mechanisms of exchange in wild tufted capuchin monkeys. Behav Ecol 22:663–669Google Scholar
  131. Tomasello M (1999a) The cultural origins of human cognition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  132. Tomasello M (1999b) The human adaptation for culture. Annu Rev Anthropol 28:509–529Google Scholar
  133. Turiel E (1983) The development of social knowledge. Morality and convention. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  134. Uskul A, Kitayama S, Nisbett R (2008) Ecocultural basis of cognition: farmers and fishermen are more holistic than herders. Proc Natl Acad Sci 105(25):8552–8855Google Scholar
  135. Watts DP (2010) Dominance, power, and politics in nonhuman and human primates. In: Kappeler PM, Silk JB (eds) Mind the gap: tracing the origins of human universals. Springer, Berlin, pp 109–138Google Scholar
  136. Weber M [1904] (1949) The methodology of the social sciences. Free Press, GlencoeGoogle Scholar
  137. Wellman HM (1990) The child’s theory of mind. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  138. Wellman HM (1998) Culture, variation, and levels of analysis in folk psychologies: comment on Lillard (1998). Psychol Bull 123(1):33Google Scholar
  139. Winch P (1958) The idea of a social science and its relation to philosophy. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  140. Windsor WL (2004) An ecological approach to semiotics. J Theory Soc Behav 34(2):179–198Google Scholar
  141. Withagen R, de Poel H J, Araújo D, Pepping G-J (2012) Affordances can invite behavior: reconsidering the relationship between affordances and agency. New Ideas Psychol 30(2):250–258Google Scholar
  142. Yamamoto S, Humle T, Tanaka M (2009) Chimpanzees help each other upon request. PLoS One 4:e7416Google Scholar
  143. Zaehle T, Jordan K, Wustenberg T, Baudewig J, Dechent P, Mast F (2006) The neural basis of the egocentric and allocentric spatial frame of reference. Brain Res 1137:92–103Google Scholar
  144. Zerubavel E (1997) Social mindscapes. An invitation to cognitive sociology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge MAGoogle Scholar
  145. Zuberbühler K, Wittig RM (2011) Field experiments with nonhuman primates: a tutorial. In: Setchell J, Curtis DJ (eds) Field and laboratory methods in primatology: a practical guide. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 207–224Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratory of Sociology, Institute of Social SciencesUniversity of LausanneDorignySwitzerland
  2. 2.Cognitive Science CenterUniversity of NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations