Outline of Programs
Hokkaido University
Department of Behavioral Science, Graduate School of Letters, Hokkaido University
Kita 10, Nishi 7 Kita-ku Sapporo-shi Hokkaido

Outline of Programs

The Center for the Sociality of Mind at Hokkaido University, our proposed center for the Global COE program, has two goals: (a) to conduct cutting-edge research on the evolutionary, ecological, and adaptive bases of human sociality, and (b) to establish a systematic educational program designed to train and develop future scholars in this emerging field. In this section, we will first describe the academic background that has led us to propose the Center and then briefly delineate some of the unique features of our program as they relate to the international research scene. Sections 2 will elaborate on these features of the Center. Section 3 outlines our plan for attaining our goals.

For the last couple of decades, a new perspective on human nature has been emerging within the biological, cognitive, and social sciences, which rests on a general view that humans are endowed with neural and psychological mechanisms that make us fundamentally social — i.e., capable of creating and maintaining cooperative relationships with others. Although some fragmentary or rudimentary forms of such sociality may also exist in non-human species, humans are highly unique in their ability to achieve large scale cooperation with non-kin. With the accumulation of evidence from laboratory experiments, field research, and formal modeling and computer simulations of human behavior, the “problem of social order” has now become a common core question encompassing many disciplines in biological, cognitive, and social sciences: How is social order generated, sustained, and altered? How do humans succeed in creating and maintaining social order at a scale that no other species seems capable of?

Students of psychology and society have addressed this question in various forms over the last two decades. For instance, the “second revolution” that transpired in cognitive science during the 1990’s promoted a view that cognition is not restricted to isolated individual minds but is often fundamentally social (i.e., socially-shared and distributed). Consequently, studies on “collaboration among agents”—how cooperation is established and maintained by autonomous agents— and the “micro culture” that emerges as a result of these social interactions have become key research pursuits. Introduction of the evolutionary perspective into cognitive science has also stimulated a new wave of research on the adaptive bases of the human mind, including comparison of human and other primate social cognitions, which has yielded innovative disciplines such as evolutionary psychology and comparative cognitive science. In biological sciences (evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology in particular), introduction of game theory during the 1980’s changed profoundly the way animal social behavior is understood, and these researchers are now extending the scope of their investigations to study human behavior as well, especially the aforementioned issue of large scale cooperation. In the social sciences, proliferation of game theory as a research tool has prompted studies on the origins and functions of social institutions, including non-market social institutions such as social norms, conventions, culture, and the like. Acceptance of experimental methodology in economics has also fostered keen interest in so called “anomalous” human behavior—systematic deviations from the notion of homo economicus.

Establishment of the Center under the Global COE program would also contribute to this quest to understand the foundations of human sociality. Our approach to the problem of social order is unique in that we specifically focus on co-evolutionary processes between human sociality (i.e., the neural and psychological features that make us behave in a particular way in a given social situation) and social institutions (i.e., the macro societal/cultural patterns created and maintained in service of group living). Moreover, our program is unique in that we investigate these co-evolutionary processes by combining systematically game theoretic techniques with more traditional behavioral science methodologies. We believe that the power of game theory to address the problem of social order stems from its unique perspective on how social institutions are to be understood; game theory guides us to analyze social institutions as the product of self-generating and self-sustaining interaction patterns among internally-driven agents. This is in stark contrast to the traditional model of social institutions, which views them as constraints that are extraneously imposed on the interacting agents. We call this new perspective a micro-macro approach to social institutions. This approach can be described as bi-directional: on the one hand, social institutions are created, modified, and sustained through repeated interactions between individual agents (organisms endowed with an evolved set of psychological mechanisms and decision-making principles); on the other hand, these social institutions subsequently come to apply selective pressure on agents, favoring those with certain psychological attributes while simultaneously prohibiting others. Therefore, the micro (psychology) and macro (social institutions) structures constitute a co-evolutionary, mutually-constraining integrated system.

Our approach in this respect shares some theoretical foundations with behavioral ecology, evolutionary psychology, and cultural psychology, but we are unique in that we focus on the mutual construction of human sociality and social institutions. Our focus on the interplay between the micro—human sociality as a part of human nature—and the macro—social institutions or self-sustained system of social incentives— gives us, we believe, a unique advantage to bridge cognitive and psychological sciences, on the one hand, and social sciences, on the other, and to provide a powerful and innovative foundation for a new generation of social science research.

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