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"Updating, Evidence Evaluation, and Operators: The Steering of Belief" Dr. Joseph Sommer (Department of Psychology, Rutgers University)

Tuesday, November 29, 2022, 02:00pm - 03:20pm

152 Frelinghuysen Rd, Psych Bldg. Room 105

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Abstract: How does human belief work? In contrast to the normative assumption that people update their beliefs via Bayes’ rule, psychologists have documented belief phenomena which appear difficult to explain via a Bayesian updating. Moreover, people often arrive at disparate beliefs in domains from politics to science, which may seem difficult to account for on the assumption that beliefs track the truth. Such considerations have led to postulation of irrational, a-rational, and instrumentally rational belief processes to explain human belief. In this talk, I suggest that conclusions of non-Bayesian updating are too hasty. Beliefs are the outputs of multiple cognitive processes and, as such, understanding belief requires distinguishing between updating, narrowly construed, and a series of additional psychological processes involved in human belief. I introduce a novel framework which situates these processes in three levels of nested influence. At Level 1, belief updating is suggested to be approximately Bayesian and more sensitive to evidence than it is usually given credit for. At Level 2, an additional set of processes evaluates evidence and determines what information is presented to Level 1 for updating. Level 2 processes share two characteristics: they are necessarily heuristic and fallible, as well as cognitively penetrable (Pylyshyn, 1999) to desires and goals. Finally, at Level 3, factors including information representation and individual differences imply different operators (Newell & Simon, 1972) to evidence evaluation processes at Level 2. By manipulating Level 2 processes, people may “steer” their updating mechanisms toward particular subsets of evidence and thereby alter the beliefs they come to possess. This framework offers a nuanced and principled account of human belief which specifies where and under what circumstances irrationality may enter the picture.

Bio: Dr. Joseph Sommer is a Post Doc Affiliate at RuCCS, Rutgers University workinging with Dr. John McGann and Dr. Pernille Hemmer. Dr. Sommer received his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Rutgers University. He is interested in the bounded rationality of cognition under computational constraints and a broad intersection of fields relevant to belief including the philosophy of mental representation, epistemology, and the psychology of persuasion, reasoning, and judgment and decision making.