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In everyday life, many people believe that two heads are better than one. Our ability to solve problems together appears to be fundamental to the current dominance and future survival of the human species. But are two heads really better than one? We addressed this question in the context of a collective low-level perceptual decision-making task. For two observers of nearly equal visual sensitivity, two heads were definitely better than one, provided they were given the opportunity to communicate freely, even in the absence of any feedback about decision outcomes. But for observers with very different visual sensitivities, two heads were actually worse than the better one. These seemingly discrepant patterns of group behavior can be explained by a model in which two heads are Bayes optimal under the assumption that individuals accurately communicate their level of confidence on every trial.

Social cognition concerns the various psychological processes that enable individuals to take advantage of being part of a social group. Of major importance to social cognition are the various social signals that enable us to learn about the world. Such signals include facial expressions, such as fear and disgust, which warn us of danger, and eye gaze direction, which indicate where interesting things can be found. Such signals are particularly important in infant development. Social referencing, for example, refers to the phenomenon in which infants refer to their mothers' facial expressions to determine whether or not to approach a novel object. We can learn a great deal simply by observing others. Much of this signalling seems to happen automatically and unconsciously on the part of both the sender and the receiver. We can learn to fear a stimulus by observing the response of another, in the absence of awareness of that stimulus. By contrast, learning by instruction, rather than observation, does seem to depend upon awareness of the stimulus, since such learning does not generalize to situations where the stimulus is presented subliminally. Learning by instruction depends upon a meta-cognitive process through which both the sender and the receiver recognize that signals are intended to be signals. An example would be the ‘ostensive’ signals that indicate that what follows are intentional communications. Infants learn more from signals that they recognize to be instructive. I speculate that it is this ability to recognize and learn from instructions rather than mere observation which permitted that advanced ability to benefit from cultural learning that seems to be unique to the human race.