Developmental continuities and core mechanisms in social and moral cognition

June 3, 2010

In his talk on June 2, 2010, Prof Luca Surian (University of Trento, Italy) presented the results of some recent experiments he and his research team carried out to investigate causal perception, mental state attribution, and social evaluation skills in infants, children and adults. They assessed causal perception using the habituation/dishabituation paradigm by presenting 6-month-olds with simple events involving two agents that reacted at a distance. Mental state attribution and early social evaluation skills were assessed using an eye-tracking apparatus while infants watched animation events involving the interaction of schematic animals and geometric shapes. Toddlers’ and preschoolers’ social evaluations and moral intuitions were elicited by presenting the participants with the animation events used with infants as well as short stories followed by requests to judge the nicety of the agent that performed a critical action, the intentionality of the effects of the agents’ actions, and whether a certain action had to be performed. Luca Surian concluded that overall the results point out remarkable similarities in children’s and adults responses and provide support for some recent theoretical models of core social cognition. Finally, he discussed the implications of these results for a theory of core mechanisms underlying social and moral evaluations.