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University of Oregon


Decision Making Focus Group Meeting

Sean Laurent will be our speaker on Weds May 27 at noon in 401 Straub:

Some of my recent work has shown that the rules people use for when to assign blame may differ quite a bit from those used to give praise, suggesting fundamental differences in the two concepts. I am interested in why this should rationally be the case, and in finding interesting and novel ways to study the concept of praise and contrast praising with blaming. I will present some data in support of my initial arguments, and provide a (undercooked) theoretical framework for understanding blame/praise asymmetries. Most importantly, I’m looking for feedback, advice, and discussion from all of you on how to do this. As a note, this topic certainly has application to those interested in marketing as well as basic social cognition!

Please join us and feel free to bring a lunch!

War and Evolution group: Coalitional Play Fighting Among Forager Children

Where: 401 Straub
When: 2:00 PM, Friday, May 15
What:  War and Evolution focus group meeting
Presenters: Marcela Mendoza and Michelle Scalise Sugiyama

Please come join us for a presentation of work in progress by two of our focus group members.  All are welcome!

War Games: Coalitional Play Fighting Among Forager Children

A large part of an organism’s development involves the assembly of adaptations.  As Tooby and Cosmides argue, “All mature adaptations depend upon the prior existence of adaptations designed to build them” (2001:15).  Thus, many cognitive adaptations are expected to have two modes, a functional mode and an organizational mode.  In the functional mode, the adaptation performs its evolved function; in the organizational mode, the adaptation is assembled.  During the assembly phase, the adaptation is provided with information and weightings that it needs to perform its function.  Some of this information may be reliably available in the external world, and the organizational mode of the adaptation may be designed to use this information rather than storing it in the genome.  Thus, the organizational mode is expected to have a motivational component that guides the organism to interact with its environment in ways that further the development of the adaptation.  We experience the effects of these motivational mechanisms, in part, as aesthetic responses, such as beauty, pleasure, fun, and excitement.  On this view, much of what is characterized as play behavior may be generated by adaptations operating in their organizational mode.  Each module of the human mind (e.g., language, vision, social intelligence, predator avoidance, sexuality) poses a different set of developmental problems.  Thus, each should come with its own aesthetic, designed to motivate the individual to engage in experiences (e.g., babbling, play chasing) that develop and/or calibrate the module.  We apply this hypothesis to coalitional play fighting (i.e., war play).  Specifically, we conceptualize war play as the operation of the module for coalitional intergroup aggression in its organizational mode.  To this end, we (1) delineate assessments that are specific to coalitional intergroup aggression, (2) describe war play (as documented in the ethnographic record) and the rules of engagement; and (3) discuss ways in which such play might provide information and weightings critical to readying the module for operation.

Argentine Photographer, Loruhama Teruya Rossi Photo Exhibit

The Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences will be displaying an exhibit by Argentine photographer Loruhama Teruya Rossi March 25-30, 2015. Easels with the photos will be placed along the ICDS entrance hallway on the fourth floor (L410).  Please feel free to stop by and admire her work at any time during this time.

These photos are part of a larger project called LUJANSYLVANIA.  Lujan is a place in Argentina well known for its Basilica, pilgrimages of the faithful, and tourism. In this provocative exhibit, the photographer – with an aesthetic reference to Bram Stoker’s Transylvania – combines everyday scenes of the city of Lujan with an atmosphere of medieval mystery, inviting a reflection on stereotypes broken, and revealing parallel realities that are there to be deciphered.

If you are curious, below is a link to some of the images (we don’t know which ones she is going to bring).


Public Lecture with Nina Strohminger on March 3, 2015

Nina Strohminger, Postdoctoral Associate at Duke University, will be giving a public lecture on “The Essential Moral Self” at , in the Collier House Classroom (1170 East 13th Avenue) on the University of Oregon campus.12:00-1:30pm on Tuesday March 3, 2015.


Abstract from the presenter: “Ever since Locke, it has been postulated that personal identity is judged on the basis of mental features. However, the possibility that certain parts of the mind are especially central to identity has not been systematically investigated. In this talk, I lay out the evidence that our sense of identity—both in ourselves and in others—arises primarily from the continuity of moral traits. This pattern emerges repeatedly across a variety of domains, from brain damage and drug use to folk beliefs about reincarnation and the soul. Data from children and Eastern populations indicates that this privileging of moral character emerges early and is cross-culturally robust. Furthermore, identity change mediates real-world outcomes such as the robustness of personal relationships. Potential explanations for this phenomenon, along with implications for the field, are discussed.”


This public lecture is sponsored by the Scientific Study of Values Research Interest Group, the Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences, and the Philosophy Department.

Event Poster

For more information, contact Mark Alfano or Azim Shariff.

ICDS Member, Michelle Scalise Sugiyama Blogs on Huffington Post!!

ICDS member, Michelle Scalise Sugiyama recently published an article on the fitness costs of warfare for women.  The Huffington Post took notice and invited her to blog about it.   Below is the link to the blog post:

And here’s the link to the article:

Ted Slingerland Visits ICDS October 10, 2014

Ted Slingerland, Professor of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia

Associate Member, Depts. of Philosophy and Psychology

Friday, Oct 10, 2014

4:00 pm

Location: 101 Jaqua Academic Center


Trying Not to Try: Cooperation, Trust and the Paradox of Spontaneity

Many early Chinese thinkers had as their spiritual ideal the state of wu-wei, or effortless action. By advocating spontaneity as an explicit moral and religious goal, they inevitably involved themselves in the paradox of wu-wei—the problem of how one can try not to try—which later became one of the central tensions in East Asian religious thought. In this talk, I will look at the paradox from both an early Chinese and a contemporary perspective, drawing upon work in social psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and evolutionary theory to argue that this paradox is a real one, and is moreover intimately tied up with problems surrounding cooperation in large-scale societies and concerns about moral hypocrisy.

Owen Flanagan May, 2014

May 5-8, 2014 visit by Owen Flanagan James B Duke Professor and Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University. Flanagan will be visiting us for several days.  Among other things, he’ll make himself available to the new ICDS Values Focus Group for consultation on interdisciplinary values research on Monday, May 5, 3-5 PM.  He will also give a colloquium talk on mindfulness on Tuesday, May 6, 4-6 PM and will be presenting at the Social Personality Group at noon on May 7th.  Finally, he has agreed to make himself available to meet one-on-one or in small groups with faculty and grad students while here.
Please let Mark Alfano ( whether you (or one of your grad students) would like to meet Flanagan over a meal or for one of the available hours.

Title:   “Varieties of Moral Self Cultivation”

Abstract: In addition to communal work to develop good people, most traditions have methods of self-cultivation that are designed to help create, sustain, develop, and perfect various virtues and other excellences.  I’ll talk about some mindfulness techniques in classical Confucianism and classical Buddhism and relate them to some contemporary psychological thinking about human first nature and to some philosophical thinking about the possibilities of rational control and ethical criticism.


May 5, 2014 3:00 pm, Knight Library Reading Room – Meeting with the Values Focus Group
May 6, 2014 4:00 pm, 202 Ford Alumni Room – Colloquium “Varieties of Moral Self Cultivation”
May 7, 2014  noon, 271B Franklin Building – Brownbag presentation for the Social Personality Group
May 8, 2014 Guest presenter in Mark Johnson Philosophy seminars


For a download of the poster click here.


Institute Colloquium Speaker-Dan Kelly-March 13, 2014

The Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences presents our first colloquium speaker of 2014, Daniel Kelly.  Daniel Kelly is an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Purdue University. His research interests lie at the intersection of the philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and moral theory. He is the author of Yuck! The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust, and has published papers on moral judgment, social norms, racial cognition, and cross-cultural diversity.

When: Thursday, March 13, 2014 at noon.

Where: 103 Collier House, University of Oregon Campus

Title: ‘Disgust, Disagreement, and the Psychology of Cultural  Transmission’


In this talk, I use recent research on the production and recognition of expressions of disgust to argue that the emotion is equipped with a proprietary signaling system. I flesh out the picture of this signaling system in light of a number of adaptive challenges that shaped the evolution of disgust, including those associated with the cultural transmission and learning, social norms, and cooperation.  Finally, I draw out some implications of this picture and the kinds of variation and disagreement it allows for perennial debates in moral philosophy.

Institute Membership Meeting

Coming up November 21, 2013, 4:00 in Room 271-B Franklin Building. Come see the new temporary location while Straub Hall in being renovated, enjoy refreshments, and find out what is coming up for the Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences.  We look forward to seeing everyone.

The Science of Mindfulness and Meditation

Friday, November 1 at 1:00pm to 4:00pm

Willamette Hall, 110 1371 East 13th Avenue, Eugene, OR

The Science of Mindfulness and MeditationCris Niell, assistant professor in the University of Oregon’s Institute for Neuroscience, together with several psychology graduate students, has organized a symposium on the subject entitled “The Science of Mindfulness and Meditation,” scheduled for 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1 in Willamette Hall, Room 110.

The afternoon symposium will feature guest speaker Dr. Sara Lazar of the Harvard Medical School, who has pioneered studies about the effects of meditation on brain structure and function. In addition to Dr. Lazar’s address, both graduate students and faculty from the University of Oregon will give presentations, including graduate students Lisa May and Robin Hertz, clinical psychology professor Heidemarie Laurent, and noted cognitive neuroscientist Michael Posner.

A reception following the symposium will provide time for further discussion among the speakers and attendees. All who are interested in the scientific underpinnings of meditation and mindfulness are welcome to attend the symposium.