ZiF Logo

ZiF Research Group

The Cultural Constitution of Causal Cognition

Re-Integrating Anthropology into the Cognitive Sciences


Convenors: Prof. Dr. Andrea Bender (Bergen), Prof. Dr. Sieghard Beller (Bergen)

Causality is one of the core concepts in our attempts to make sense of the world, and the explanations we come up with shape our judgments, emotions, and intentions. This renders causal cognition a core topic for social as well as cognitive sciences. In the past, however, respective research has been split into diverging paradigms, each pertaining to a distinct (sub-) discipline and focusing on a specific domain, thus creating a rather fragmented picture of causal cognition. Furthermore, most of this previous research paid only incidental attention to culture as a constitutive factor. Yet, cultural variation can be expected with respect to the delineation of domains, the concepts referred to, the mechanisms of processing, and even the willingness to search for causal explanations. A systematic and thorough investigation into the cultural constitution of causal cognition is thus overdue, and it will have to relate research on the conceptual level to novel accounts of action perception, of agency construal, and of comparative research on development and across species.

The research group took on this challenge. Its main goal was to develop an integrated perspective on causal cognition across cultures, domains, and disciplines. To achieve this, cognitive expertise was combined with cultural expertise, and this required efforts to re-integrate anthropology into the cognitive sciences to which it once belonged. The group therefore brought together international scholars with backgrounds in a broad range of disciplines and expertise in different fields of causal cognition and/or cultural impacts on cognition. The tasks of the group included to (1) clarify the central concepts and establish a common language, (2) take stock of the existing evidence across cultures and domains, (3) scrutinize, integrate and advance theoretical accounts, and (4) design joint interdisciplinary research projects.