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Evan Westra
York University
  1. Stereotypes, Theory of Mind, and the Action–Prediction Hierarchy.Evan Westra - 2019 - Synthese 196 (7):2821-2846.
    Both mindreading and stereotyping are forms of social cognition that play a pervasive role in our everyday lives, yet too little attention has been paid to the question of how these two processes are related. This paper offers a theory of the influence of stereotyping on mental-state attribution that draws on hierarchical predictive coding accounts of action prediction. It is argued that the key to understanding the relation between stereotyping and mindreading lies in the fact that stereotypes centrally involve character-trait (...)
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  2. Getting to Know You: Accuracy and Error in Judgments of Character.Evan Westra - 2020 - Mind and Language 35 (5):583-600.
    Character judgments play an important role in our everyday lives. However, decades of empirical research on trait attribution suggest that the cognitive processes that generate these judgments are prone to a number of biases and cognitive distortions. This gives rise to a skeptical worry about the epistemic foundations of everyday characterological beliefs that has deeply disturbing and alienating consequences. In this paper, I argue that this skeptical worry is misplaced: under the appropriate informational conditions, our everyday character-trait judgments are in (...)
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  3. Character and Theory of Mind: An Integrative Approach.Evan Westra - 2018 - Philosophical Studies 175 (5):1217-1241.
    Traditionally, theories of mindreading have focused on the representation of beliefs and desires. However, decades of social psychology and social neuroscience have shown that, in addition to reasoning about beliefs and desires, human beings also use representations of character traits to predict and interpret behavior. While a few recent accounts have attempted to accommodate these findings, they have not succeeded in explaining the relation between trait attribution and belief-desire reasoning. On my account, character-trait attribution is part of a hierarchical system (...)
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  4.  36
    Pragmatic Development Explains the Theory-of-Mind Scale.Evan Westra & Peter Carruthers - 2017 - Cognition 158:165-176.
    Henry Wellman and colleagues have provided evidence of a robust developmental progression in theory-of-mind (or as we will say, “mindreading”) abilities, using verbal tasks. Understanding diverse desires is said to be easier than understanding diverse beliefs, which is easier than understanding that lack of perceptual access issues in ignorance, which is easier than understanding false belief, which is easier than understanding that people can hide their true emotions. These findings present a challenge to nativists about mindreading, and are said to (...)
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  5. Spontaneous Mindreading: A Problem for the Two-Systems Account.Evan Westra - 2017 - Synthese 194 (11):4559-4581.
    According to the two-systems account of mindreading, our mature perspective-taking abilities are subserved by two distinct mindreading systems: a fast but inflexible, “implicit” system, and a flexible but slow “explicit” one. However, the currently available evidence on adult perspective-taking does not support this account. Specifically, both Level-1 and Level-2 perspective-taking show a combination of efficiency and flexibility that is deeply inconsistent with the two-systems architecture. This inconsistency also turns out to have serious consequences for the two-systems framework as a whole, (...)
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  6. Pragmatic Development and the False Belief Task.Evan Westra - 2017 - Review of Philosophy and Psychology 8 (2):235-257.
    Nativists about theory of mind have typically explained why children below the age of four fail the false belief task by appealing to the demands that these tasks place on children’s developing executive abilities. However, this appeal to executive functioning cannot explain a wide range of evidence showing that social and linguistic factors also affect when children pass this task. In this paper, I present a revised nativist proposal about theory of mind development that is able to accommodate these findings, (...)
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  7.  19
    Introduction to Folk Psychology: Pluralistic Approaches.Kristin Andrews, Shannon Spaulding & Evan Westra - forthcoming - Synthese.
    This introduction to the topical collection, Folk Psychology: Pluralistic Approaches reviews the origins and basic theoretical tenets of the framework of pluralistic folk psychology. It places special emphasis on pluralism about the variety folk psychological strategies that underlie behavioral prediction and explanation beyond belief-desire attribution, and on the diverse range of social goals that folk psychological reasoning supports beyond prediction and explanation. Pluralism is not presented as a single theory or model of social cognition, but rather as a big-tent research (...)
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  8. Beyond ‘Interaction’: How to Understand Social Effects on Social Cognition.Julius Schönherr & Evan Westra - 2019 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 70 (1):27-52.
    In recent years, a number of philosophers and cognitive scientists have advocated for an ‘interactive turn’ in the methodology of social-cognition research: to become more ecologically valid, we must design experiments that are interactive, rather than merely observational. While the practical aim of improving ecological validity in the study of social cognition is laudable, we think that the notion of ‘interaction’ is not suitable for this task: as it is currently deployed in the social cognition literature, this notion leads to (...)
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  9.  31
    Folk Personality Psychology: Mindreading and Mindshaping in Trait Attribution.Evan Westra - forthcoming - Synthese:1-20.
    Character-trait attribution is an important component of everyday social cognition that has until recently received insufficient attention in traditional accounts of folk psychology. In this paper, I consider how the case of character-trait attribution fits into the debate between mindreading-based and broadly ‘pluralistic’ approaches to folk psychology. Contrary to the arguments of some pluralists, I argue that the evidence on trait understanding does not show that it is a distinct, non-mentalistic mode of folk-psychological reasoning, but rather suggests that traits are (...)
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  10.  37
    Evolving Enactivism: Basic Minds Meet Content, by Daniel D. Hutto and Erik Myin: Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2017, Pp. Xxvii + 328, $US35. [REVIEW]Evan Westra - 2019 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 97 (1):210-210.
  11.  4
    If Skill is Normative, Then Norms Are Everywhere.Kristin Andrews & Evan Westra - 2021 - Analyse & Kritik 43 (1):203-218.
    Birch sketches out an ingenious account of how the psychology of social norms emerged from individual-level norms of skill. We suggest that these individual-level norms of skill are likely to be much more widespread than Birch suggests, extending deeper into the hominid lineage, across modern great ape species, all the way to distantly related creatures like honeybees. This suggests that there would have been multiple opportunities for social norms to emerge from skill norms in human prehistory.
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  12.  72
    Beyond Avatars and Arrows: Testing the Mentalizing and Submentalizing Hypotheses with a Novel Entity Paradigm.Evan Westra, Brandon F. Terrizzi, Simon T. van Baal, Jonathan S. Beier & John Michael - forthcoming - Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.
    In recent years, there has been a heated debate about how to interpret findings that seem to show that humans rapidly and automatically calculate the visual perspectives of others. In the current study, we investigated the question of whether automatic interference effects found in the dot-perspective task (Samson, Apperly, Braithwaite, Andrews, & Bodley Scott, 2010) are the product of domain-specific perspective-taking processes or of domain-general “submentalizing” processes (Heyes, 2014). Previous attempts to address this question have done so by implementing inanimate (...)
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  13. In Defense of Ordinary Moral Character Judgment.Evan Westra - forthcoming - Erkenntnis:1-19.
    Moral character judgments pervade our everyday social interactions. But are these judgments epistemically reliable? In this paper, I discuss a challenge to the reliability of ordinary virtue and vice attribution that emerges from Christian Miller’s Mixed Traits theory of moral character, which entails that the majority of our ordinary moral character judgments are false. In response to this challenge, I argue that a key prediction of this theory is not borne out by the available evidence; this evidence further suggests that (...)
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  14. Mindreading in Conversation.Evan Westra & Jennifer Nagel - 2021 - Cognition 210:104618.
    How is human social intelligence engaged in the course of ordinary conversation? Standard models of conversation hold that language production and comprehension are guided by constant, rapid inferences about what other agents have in mind. However, the idea that mindreading is a pervasive feature of conversation is challenged by a large body of evidence suggesting that mental state attribution is slow and taxing, at least when it deals with propositional attitudes such as beliefs. Belief attributions involve contents that are decoupled (...)
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  15. When is Mindreading Accurate? A Commentary on Shannon Spaulding’s How We Understand Others: Philosophy and Social Cognition. [REVIEW]Evan Westra - 2020 - Philosophical Psychology 33 (6):868-882.
    In How We Understand Others: Philosophy and Social Cognition, Shannon Spaulding develops a novel account of social cognition with pessimistic implications for mindreading accuracy: according to Spaulding, mistakes in mentalizing are much more common than traditional theories of mindreading commonly assume. In this commentary, I push against Spaulding’s pessimism from two directions. First, I argue that a number of the heuristic mindreading strategies that Spaulding views as especially error prone might be quite reliable in practice. Second, I argue that current (...)
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  16. Social Cognition and Theory of Mind.Evan Westra - forthcoming - In Benjamin D. Young & Carolyn Dicey Jennings (eds.), Mind, Cognition, and Neuroscience: A Philosophical Introduction. Routledge.
    ‘Social cognition’ refers to the psychological capacities that humans and other animals use to reason about other agents and navigate complex social environments. This chapter focuses on the dominant approach to social cognition in contemporary cognitive science, which is centered around a capacity known as theory of mind or mindreading. Subjects covered include the false-belief task, the social brain network, mirror neurons, major accounts of theory of mind, objections to the theory-of-mind framework, mindreading in non-human animals, and new research on (...)
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  17.  6
    Theory of Mind.Evan Westra & Peter Carruthers - 2017 - Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science.
    Theory of mind” consists in the ability to use concepts of intentional mental states, such as beliefs, emotions, intentions, goals, and perceptual states, in order to predict and interpret behavior. Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have revealed a distinctive network of neural regions that is active during theory-of-mind tasks, including the temporal-parietal junction, the posterior superior temporal sulcus, the medial prefrontal cortex, the precuneus, and the temporal poles (Van Overwalle 2009). Deficits in theory-of-mind abilities, which are common in autism spectrum (...)
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  18. Virtue Signaling and Moral Progress.Evan Westra - 2021 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 49 (2):156-178.
    ‘Virtue signaling’ is the practice of using moral talk in order to enhance one’s moral reputation. Many find this kind of behavior irritating. However, some philosophers have gone further, arguing that virtue signaling actively undermines the proper functioning of public moral discourse and impedes moral progress. Against this view, I argue that widespread virtue signaling is not a social ill, and that it can actually serve as an invaluable instrument for moral change, especially in cases where moral argument alone does (...)
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  19.  55
    Why is Knowledge Faster Than (True) Belief?Evan Westra - forthcoming - Behavioral and Brain Sciences.
    Phillips and colleagues convincingly argue that knowledge attribution is a faster, more automatic form of mindreading than belief attribution. However, they do not explain what it is about knowledge attribution that lends it this cognitive advantage. I suggest an explanation of the knowledge-attribution advantage that would also help to distinguish it from belief-based and minimalist alternatives.
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