not the only species that learns from others, but only humans learn and
communicate in rich, diverse social contexts, and build repertoires of
abstract, structured knowledge. What makes human social learning so
distinctive, powerful, and smart? In this talk, I argue that social
learning is inferential at its core (inferential social learning); rather than
copying what others do or trusting what others say, humans learn from others by
drawing rich inferences from others’ behaviors, and help others learn by
generating evidence tailored to others’ goals and knowledge states. I will
present a series of studies that support this view and describe how they reveal
the remarkably curious minds of young children, not only about the physical
world but also about others and themselves. Children are curious about what
others do & what their actions mean, what others know & what they ought
to know, and even what others think of them and how to change their beliefs.
The results collectively paint a picture of young children as active social
learners who voraciously yet intelligently gather useful information from
others to learn about the world, and generously share what they know with those
There has been a flurry of recent work on the cognitive neuroscience of curiosity. But everyone in the field offers definitions of curiosity that are metacognitive in nature. Curiosity is said to be a desire for knowledge, or a motivation to learn about something, and so on. This appears problematic. It either makes it difficult to see how curiosity can properly be attributed to cats and rats (let alone birds and bees), or it commits us to attributing capacities for self-awareness in these creatures for which we lack evidence. The goal of the talk is to offer a re-interpretation of the main findings in the literature, showing how it is possible for creatures to be curious while lacking any conception of their own or others’ minds. But at the same time I will argue that there is something that a metacognitive conception of curiosity gets right. The talk will first situate curiosity among affective states generally, before going on to elucidate both its contents and its dependence on forms of model-free sensitivity to one's own ignorance.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a prevalent and poorly understood neurodevelopmental disorder. There are currently no laboratory-based diagnostic tests to detect ASD, nor are there any disease-modifying medications that effectively treat ASD’s core behavioral symptoms. Scientific progress has been impeded, in part, by overreliance on model organisms that fundamentally lack the sophisticated social and cognitive abilities essential for modeling ASD. We therefore saw significant value in studying naturally low-social rhesus monkeys to model human social impairment, taking advantage of a large outdoor-housed colony for behavioral screening and biomarker identification. Careful development and validation of our animal model, combined with a strong commitment to evaluating the translational utility of our preclinical findings directly in patients with ASD, yielded a robust neurochemical marker (cerebrospinal fluid vasopressin concentration) of trans-primate social impairment and a medication (intranasal vasopressin) shown to improve social cognition in naturally low-social monkeys and in children with ASD. This translational primate research approach stands to advance our understanding of ASD in a manner not readily achievable with existing animal models, and can be adapted to investigate a variety of other human brain disorders which currently lack valid preclinical options, thereby streamlining translation and amplifying clinical impact more broadly.