23.09.15 Lecture: Federico Rossano


Federico Rossano is an associate professor in the Cognitive Science department at UC San Diego and the director of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory. His work is highly interdisciplinary. He has conducted studies on cooperation and communication in all great apes, baboons and macaques, dogs, wolves, cats, goats, horses and rats. He has studied the development of joint attention and social norms (in particular about property) in young children and has published several papers on multimodal communication and on how knowledge is negotiated in conversation (epistemics). He conducts both observational and experimental work in several countries. He is the PI of the largest citizen science study ever attempted on Animal Communication where he trains dogs and cats to use soundboards to communicate with humans. He has published in Science Advances, Science Robotics, PNAS, Psychological Science, Cognition, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Animal Behavior, Animal Cognition, Child Development, Developmental Psychology, etc. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Economist, The Guardian, National Geographic, Vice, Netflix, BBC, CBS, NBC, etc.


The Emergence of Property Concerns


All human societies care about ownership of at least some kinds of things (Brown, 1991; Hann, 1998), yet young children struggle to understand property and come only gradually to an understanding of ownership and how it may be legitimately transferred. Little is known about non-human primates understanding of property, in that they appear to have a sense of possession and will fight to protect the food that is in their physical control (Kummer & Cords, 1991; Sigg & Falett, 1985), but there is currently no evidence that they have any sense of ownership (i.e., they would respect others’ property even when they are absent) (Brosnan, 2011). In this talk I present a series of cross-cultural studies on young children (3-8) investigating their understanding of (i) under which conditions who owns what (“condition of ownership” rules), and (ii) what implications (rights, commitments entitlements, etc.) come from owning objects (“implication of ownership” rules). I will present data collected in the USA, Germany, Namibia, Kenya and Argentina and some ongoing work we are conducting in India. I will then present some novel studies on non-human primates investigating their tendency to respect other individuals’ properties and to protest when their property is violated. By comparing the results on human children and non-human primates, I will show that ownership concerns are uniquely human and develop early in ontogeny.

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