Australasian Mathematical Psychology Conference 2019

Taking an intentional stance in joint action: How can we explain cross-cultural variability?

Yoshihisa Kashima
Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University of Melbourne
Michael Kirley
University of Melbourne
Yuan Sun
Alex Stivala
Swinburne University of Technology
Simon Laham
University of Melbourne
Piers Howe
University of Melbourne

The concept of intention seems to be central in human sociality. Humans ascribe intentionality not only to other humans, but also to nonhuman beings and even inanimate objects to understand, explain, and predict their behaviours. This cognitive practice of taking an intentional stance seems ubiquitous. Yet, there is also some evidence of cross-cultural and historical variability in the extent to which people take an intentional stance. This is puzzling because intentional stance taking (IST) is regarded as a necessary aspect of joint action. If in fact humanity’s success is largely due to our ability to engage in joint actions to achieve a goal unattainable by individuals alone, and IST is necessary for engaging in a joint action, how can a society function without engaging in IST? We constructed a cultural evolutionary model to explain this apparent cross-cultural variability. We incorporate signalling to model intention-reading as integral to the stag hunt game as a game theoretic model of joint action, postulate different IST types that vary from a minimal level of mindreading to a heightened awareness and explicit consideration of other minds (hyper IST), and show by simulations the environmental circumstances in which different IST types become prevalent in a population. We show that minimal IST becomes a predominant cognitive practice when a community affords a limited opportunity to interact with strangers, whereas hyper IST becomes more predominant when society is highly open and mobile with many chances of interacting with strangers. Yet, if societal mobility is extremely high, hyper IST cannot sustain cooperative joint actions unless there is an institutional mechanism of social control to sanction against deception and defection. Implications of this research are discussed for theory of mind research, moral psychology, and other contemporary research in psychology and cognitive science.