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Bentley, Garthoff, Shteynberg Publish Interdisciplinary Paper on Collective Learning

Alex Bentley, head of the Department Anthropology, Jon Garthoff, associate professor of philosophy, and Garriy Shteynberg, an associate professor of psychology, published an interdisciplinary paper in the journal Psychological Review titled “Shared worlds and shared minds: A theory of collective learning and a psychology of common knowledge.”

Alex Bentley
Alex Bentley
Jon Garthoff
Jon Garthoff
Garriy Shteynberg
Garriy Shteynberg

Researchers studied collective learning and its impact on collective identities, social norms, and strategic cooperation.

“In my field, we assume that societies accumulate knowledge through social learning, over a range of time scales, from Neolithic societies to modern social media discourse,” Bentley said. “In this paper, we propose something completely novel for my area of research – that we don’t just learn from each other, but that we learn with each other.”

In an era of heightened collective attention, this concept could hold insight into how to plan knowledge sharing in the future.

“Group structure is important to how knowledge is shared and brings up very interesting questions about how social media, online publishing, or online teaching might fundamentally affect how groups learn with each other,” Bentley said.

Garthoff researches how psychological capacities – including capacities shared with many nonhuman animals, such as perception, consciousness, and judgment – figure in our best understanding of ethics. Researchers also offer a psychological explanation as to why people choose to cooperate with each other and when they come up with new social rules that govern their interactions.

“People practice collective attention when they assume that they are co-attending to the same physical object or event, or the same psychological experience or emotion,” Shteynberg said.

For example, when watching a movie with a friend, one can think of it as a movie that ‘we see’ that makes ‘us’ laugh, or cry.

“At the heart of the paper is the idea that even though a person’s actual perspective is always unique, imagining one’s perspective to be collective is the psychological foundation of human cultural life,” Shteynberg said.

Jacob Hirsch at the University of Toronto was an additional coauthor on the paper.

The trio received the College of Arts and Sciences 2019 Interdepartmental Collaborative Scholarship and Research Award during the annual faculty awards banquet for their work on this groundbreaking paper. The authors’ thesis provides a psychological answer (Shteynberg) to a long-standing philosophical problem (Garthoff), with implications for human evolution (Bentley).

Compiled from original articles by Kelly Alley