The institutions that weave the fabric of our society - laws, regulations, customs, networks, organizations, etcetera - are not just products of human culture and history. They are also shaped by several fundamental skills and inclinations that all of us bring to the task, as members of the ultra-cooperative species Homo Sapiens. In this workshop, we explore two crucial features of the human mind that shape our institutions at the micro-, meso-, and macro-levels: language and social cognition.
Most of human collaboration, self-regulation, and collective action critically depends on language. For example, we use words when coding laws and prescriptions, when talking about how to run the country, when gossiping to keep free-riding in check, and when apologizing for transgressions. We use language to control ourselves, and, though narrative, to explore alternative perspectives, or alternative worlds with different institutions. In all, a lot of our language use actually gives shape to the institutions around us. Also, the words and phrases involved are themselves shaped by the institutional practices they are embedded in. Moreover, any particular language is an institution too, a system of practices and regulations that works because its speakers have agreed to a shared set of conventions, and to be fundamentally cooperative in its use.
Human collaboration also critically depends on social cognition. One area of research focuses on the skills that people develop and access when interacting with others, such as mind-reading, perspective-taking and empathy, keeping track of other people’s intentions, encoding their emotions and traits and responding properly to reward and punishment. Furthermore, the role of social cognition in collaboration is also studied from a human need perspective by examining how social motives, values and beliefs support or undermine one’s own and others’ behavior in social normative contexts. In a more general sense, then, human collaboration is considered to rely on social cognition as a function of the capacity and motivation to regulate each other’s behaviors in simple as well as complex social structures based on past experiences.
In this Institutions workshop, we aim to initiate and facilitate cross-talk between UU researchers whose work on language or social cognition bears on understanding human collaboration, self-regulation, and collective action. An additional aim is to explore ties to other research domains in the Institutions strategic theme.