From Associations To Rules In The Development Of Concepts (FAR)

From Associations To Rules In The Development Of Concepts (FAR) (European Commission Sixth Framework: NEST no. 516542)
Denis Mareschal, Project Coordinator
Robert French, Co-Coordinator
Total Amount of the Grant: 1.2 M euros
Duration: 3 years

Human adults appear to differ from other animals by their ability to use language to communicate, their use of logic and mathematics to reason, and their ability to abstract relations that go beyond perceptual similarity. These aspects of human cognition have one important thing in common: they are all thought to be based on rules. This apparent uniqueness of human adult cognition leads to an immediate puzzle: WHEN and HOW does this rule-based system come into being? Perhaps there is, in fact, continuity between the cognitive processes of non-linguistic species and pre-linguistic children on the one hand, and human adults on the other hand. Perhaps, this transition is simply a mirage that arises from the fact that Language and Formal Reasoning are usually described by reference to systems based on rules (e.g., grammar or syllogisms).
We are studying the transition from associative to rule-based cognition within the domain of concept learning. Concepts are the primary cognitive means by which we organise things in the world. Any species that lacked this ability would, no doubt, quickly become extinct. Conversely, differences in the way that concepts are formed may go a long way in explaining the greater evolutionary success that some species have had over others.To address these issues, this project brings together 5 teams of leading international researchers from 4 different countries, with combined and convergent experience in Animal Cognition and Evolutionary Theory, Infant and Child Development, Adult Concept Learning, Neuroimaging, Social Psychology, Neural Network Modelling, and Statistical Modelling.