Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Social Cognitive Maps: A Relational Account of Person Representation and Memory
by Jolly, Eshin, Ph.D., Dartmouth College, 2019, 228; 27546519
Abstract (Summary)

One of the core challenges that animals face is successfully navigating and interacting with their environment. An emerging consensus from many domains including spatial navigation, concept learning, and semantic understanding, suggests that building a rich, internal, relational model of the world that permits predictive inferences, is key to this success: a cognitive map. Motivated by this view, this thesis raises the possibility that unlike low-dimensional trait-centric theories (e.g. warmth and competence; stereotype-content-model) that have come to dominate our understanding of social cognition, social cognitive maps may provide a richer account of how we encode and recall representations of other people. I argue that representing people in terms of their relationships with others rather than features about their identities, better characterizes how people represent other minds in social contexts because it affords predictive inferences without direct experience or trait knowledge. Using two naturalistic fMRI datasets in which individuals watched several hours of a television character drama, I provide preliminary evidence that supports this perspective. Specifically, I demonstrate how relationships between individuals rather than person-specific traits better explain spontaneous brain activity and individual differences in neural responses; that person memories are primarily organized around relationships rather than other features; and that the same brain systems that support relational encoding and episodic memory, subserve the construction and representation of social cognitive maps. This alternative perspective comports well with many other literatures and opens up several new exciting areas of inquiry that I hope myself and others will pursue in the future. I end with a (recently published) exploration of how our own cognitive limitations as researchers, a lack of methodological training, cultural academic norms, and communicative limitations given the informality of our academic prose, have led us to consistently propose and favor underspecified, low-dimensional, intuitive theories that largely lack predictive power. I offer several possible solutions for how to overcome these challenges and change the way we approach our psychological science.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Chang, Luke J.
Commitee: Wheatley, Thalia P., Manning, Jeremy R., Chen, Janice
School: Dartmouth College
Department: Psychological and Brain Sciences
School Location: United States -- New Hampshire
Source: DAI-B 81/6(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Neurosciences, Social psychology, Cognitive psychology
Keywords: Cognitive map, Intersubject correlation analysis, Multivariate pattern analysis, Naturalistic fMRI, Neural representation, Social cognition
Publication Number: 27546519
ISBN: 9781392663295
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