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Talk #1: A Theory of minds—other people’s, our own, and how they relate

Julian Jara-Ettinger, Ph.D.

Yale University


In social cognition, intuitive theories—abstract causal representational systems of knowledge—are typically thought to conflict with accounts that posit first-person experience as the engine behind social understanding. This clash is particularly prominent in a now classical debate between “theory theorist” and “simulation theorist” accounts of mental-state inference. In this talk I’ll present advances in computational frameworks of theory-based social reasoning. These models both showcase the power of intuitive theories, and highlight computational challenges that can be alleviated by relying on first-person intuitions about how our own mind works. I’ll argue that social reasoning is best understood as an intuitive theory that, beyond representing other minds, also captures how the experience of having a mind can help us understand the minds of others. I’ll end by discussing new developmental questions that this perspective highlights.

Talk #2: Intuitive Theories in Cultural and Educational Contexts

Florencia Anggoro, Ph.D.

The College of the Holy Cross


Theory-theory has inspired a growing body of research that attests to the importance of intuitive theories in cultural and educational contexts. In this talk, I will present findings that demonstrate a systematic connection between culture-specific naming practices and Indonesian children’s and adults’ categorization and reasoning about the biological world. I will also present recent findings on the link between cultural practices and mental models of illness, and the ways in which Indonesian children and adults reconcile folknatural and scientific theories of illness. The interplay between intuitive and scientific ideas often takes place in educational contexts, where children are formally taught about the natural world. In the domain of space science, children’s initial theories about the day/night cycle predict their learning from an intervention that supports the integration between everyday (Earth-based) observations and scientific (space-based) explanations. Finally, I will share some ongoing work exploring adults’ intuitive theories about the Earth-Sun relationship and how these initial models contribute to their learning about seasonal change.


Talk #3: Relationship between Children’s Intuitive Theory and Learning Preference

Jinjing Jenny Wang, Ph.D.

Rutgers University - New Brunswick


Children, much like scientists, try to make sense of the world beyond mere facts. Decades of work has revealed “theory-like” representations of causal relationships in young children. These “intuitive theories” develop over time and play an important role in children’s construction of knowledge about how the world works. How do differences in children’s developing intuitive theories impact what they want to learn about? In a series of studies, we examined the relationship between preschool children’s intuitive theory level in various domains and their domain-specific learning preferences. 

Talk #4: Intuitive Sociology

Kristin Shutts, Ph.D.

University of Wisconsin – Madison


In recent years, there has been an explosion of research focused on how children make sense of the structure of their society—in particular, how they represent and reason about social groups. In this presentation, I will review and synthesize this body of work, and suggest that intuitive sociology consists of three core phenomena: (the identification of relevant 

groups and their attributes); social value (the worth of different groups); and social norms (shared expectations for how groups ought to be). After articulating each component, I will consider transitions from intuitive to reflective representations, and then articulate future directions for advancing our understanding of intuitive sociology.

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