Understanding Affective Cognition: Frontiers in modeling reasoning about others’ emotions

Desmond OngStanford University, Stanford, California, United States
Jamil ZakiStanford University, Stanford, California, United States
Noah GoodmanStanford University, Stanford, California, United States

Abstract

Social life constantly requires us to decipher information about others into inferences about their emotional states: for example, we have to reason about what makes our romantic partners happy (a surprise gift?) or angry (not doing one’s chores?), and what they would do in those emotional states, in order to plan our upcoming interactions. Such affective cognition, or our ability to reason about others’ emotions, scaffolds everything from cooperation to the maintenance of social relationships. Affective cognition lies in the intersection of two foundational social cognitive topics, Theory of Mind (ToM; the ability to reason about others’ mental states) and Empathy (the ability to feel and understand others’ emotions). Although the past decade has seen much progress in understanding ToM and empathy using neuroscience (Koster-Hale & Saxe, 2013; Zaki & Ochsner, 2012), developmental (Meltzoff, 2011), and computational (Baker, Saxe, & Tenenbaum, 2009; Goodman & Stuhlmuller, 2013) approaches, somewhat less attention has been paid specifically to affective cognition and some of its foundational cognitive questions. How do we represent (cognitively and neurally) others’ emotional states? How do we reason with those representations? How do we make predictions and inferences about others’ future actions or desires based on their emotions? Finally, how does affective cognition shift across development? The aim of the symposium is to answer these, and other relevant questions, at the forefront of this field.

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