2nd Workshop:

Agent-Specificities and Relationships in Social Interactions

February 15th - 16th, 2018

University of Cologne


Anna Welpinghus, Anika Fiebich & Thiemo Breyer

Everyday social interactions do not take place in a vacuum - they happen among different individuals, who have personal or social relationships, single or shared histories, and occupy a number of different social identities. Yet, in the contemporary debate social interaction phenomena like theory of mind, empathy and related social behaviors have often been discussed without taking these important factors into account.

This interdisciplinary workshop aims at elucidating the dedicated role that agent-specificities and relationships among the agents may play in social interactions from the perspectives of philosophy, neuroscience, psychology and neighboring disciplines. In particular, we will focus on social cognition, including empathy and theory of mind, as well as related social behaviors. Leading questions include (but are not restricted to): (i) How do agent-specificities and relationships shape social interactions? (ii) How do agent-specificities and relationships shape mindreading and empathy? (iii) What are the cognitive mechanisms that underlie the recognition of specific agents and social interaction phenomena? (iv) Which theoretical developments are supported by the findings pertaining to the role of agent-specificities, relationships and identities for phenomena like mindreading and empathy? (v) Do they have consequences for the way we should conceptualize these phenomena?

Keynote Speakers:

Pascal Molenberghs


"Neuroscientific insights into prejudice and intergroup violence"

Societies are becoming increasingly multicultural across the world. This increase in intergroup contact will likely lead to more prejudice and intergroup violence in years to come. While ingroup bias has been studied in social science for a long time, there is still little that we know about the underlying neural processes that drive these behaviours. In a series of fMRI experiments, I will demonstrate how group membership and context influence the neural mechanisms involved in action perception, information processing, empathy and violence. These insights into the neuroscience of ingroup bias will ultimately lead to a better understanding and reduction of prejudice and intergroup violence.

Albert Newen


"Understanding Others: Investigating the Relevance of Individuality and Typical Social Relations within the Framework of the Person Model Theory"

In the first part of the talk the person model theory is introduced as a fruitful framework of understanding others. The central claim is that we develop person models and situation models to systematically organize our background knowledge on the basis of which we understand others. We develop “person models”’ of ourselves, of other individuals and of groups of persons. These models are the basis for the registration and evaluation of persons as having mental as well as physical properties. I propose that there are two kinds of person models: Very early in life we already develop implicit person schemata: A person schema is an implicit unity of sensory-motor abilities and basic mental phenomena related to one human being (or a group of humans). In normal ontogeny we also develop explicit person images: A person image is a unity of explicitly registered mental and physical phenomena related to one human being (or a group). Furthermore, we develop situation models which enables us to quickly understand others in typical situations, i.e. when we understand a person by abstracting from the individual we are dealing with. E.g. when I am entering a restaurant and see a queue, I line in and know that the people are waiting to be seated for dinner. The situation model of a restaurant includes many components and overlaps with the person models of certain groups, namely person models for waiters, for the owner of a restaurant, etc. The interaction of situation models and person models is often very important to develop an adequate understanding of others. A central component of both types of models are social relations. Private social relations (to family members, friends, etc.) are clearly part of an individual person model and they strongly shape the expectations of the activities of the relevant persons. In addition to private social relation, we also have to account for professional social relations which are attached to social roles like being the owner of the restaurant in contrast to being a waiter. Professional relations are always shaped by social hierarchies which thus play a crucial role in our social understanding which is constituted by the interaction of person models and situation models.

Ryan Murray


"Understanding the Other: A Working Model of Differential Neural Processing for Close and Familiar Others"

Presently, inferences of social cognitive neural processing have relied principally upon interactions with strangers, individuals who are necessarily emotionally distant and unfamiliar to the individual. The bulk of our daily experiences, however, arguably consist of emotionally rich interactions with close and familiar others. Close others include friends, romantic partners and family while familiar others include classmates and work associates. Investigating cerebral activity responding differentially to close/familiar others would thus be essential to conceptualize a more ecologically valid model of social cognitive neural processing.
In my talk, I will thus address differential neural processing of close/familiar others, relative to self and unfamiliar others. I will first present our earlier published meta-analytic data which illustrated a dorsal-ventral continuum of self- and other-processing in the medial prefrontal cortex, varying spatially according to the degree of familiarity. Next, I will synthesize published social neuroscience evidence demonstrating differential neural close/familiar other-processing, across both face perception and personality trait inference paradigms. Herein, I will highlight two key regions which emerge as highly probable candidates for differential close/familiar other-processing: the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and the posterior cingulate/precuneus (PCC/PC). Finally, I will support this proposal with evidence from our recent meta-analytic connectivity modeling study which demonstrated PCC/PC-TPJ coupling to underlie a dedicated other-specific neural network across both task-based and task-free states. Given this, along with a suggested functional profile revealed by forward and reverse inference algorithms in our recent study, I will propose a working neurocognitive model of differential close/familiar other-processing, relative to self and unfamiliar others.

The detailed program can be found here:
Program_2nd_ Workshop_Cologne.pdf
Adobe Acrobat Dokument 368.6 KB

Abstract submission


Abstract submission deadline: December 15th, 2017


We invite submissions from psychology, philosophy, and neurosciences and neighboring disciplines for contributory talks and poster presentations. If you would like to present a poster or talk, please submit an 250 word abstract.


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Registration fee: €50

Registration deadline: January 15th, 2018

Invoices will be sent within 10 days after registration



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