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The developmental and evolutionary basis of human intersubjectivity

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DEVOLEMPA (The developmental and evolutionary basis of human intersubjectivity)

Reporting period: 2015-10-01 to 2017-09-30

The project asked if intersubjectivity, the mutual sharing of the cognitive and affective states between interacting people, has evolved because of our cooperative breeding system. We hypothesised that cooperative breeding would increase the empathic sensitivity to another individual’s emotions. We tested this idea by looking at rudimentary empathy in a distantly related, cooperatively breeding monkey, common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus). These monkeys, like humans, are highly cooperative and prosocial in many contexts. We addressed the very basic mechanism of empathy, namely emotional contagion. We assessed, if contagion of emotions is dependent on age, sex, breeding status, or individual variation in prosociality. We also looked further into their personality, as in human personality structure a particular dimension, Agreeableness, predicts the tendency to empathy and prosocial behaviour.
A parallel research line, which emerged as the project got underway, was more theoretical. We aimed to understand the theme of the project, intersubjectivity, in a novel way. In collaboration with the host institute’s sociologists, we developed a new conceptual framework for assessing intersubjectivity in interactions. This new approach combined the increase in complexity of intersubjectivity during child development with three domains of social interaction – affect, deontics, and epistemics – discussed in conversation analytic research literature. The interdisciplinary integration of these two frameworks allows a more crystallized view of intersubjectivity and serves as an empirical research tool in interaction research of humans and nonhuman species.
To study common marmoset emotional contagion, we subjected marmosets to various emotional stimuli. The results showed that the stimuli were salient to the test subjects and free from confounding variables. The subjects responded more strongly to the conspecific in a neutral affective state than in a positively or negatively aroused state. This finding led to a collaborative effort to approach marmoset empathy from the angle of cooperative actions.

We then assessed whether prosocial personality traits predict cooperation. We extracted from earlier and newly collected data the individual scores in general sociability and in prosocial tendency. Then, we tested the monkeys in a mutual cooperation task and a prosocial task. The results revealed that marmosets present temporally consistent within-individual behavioral tendencies that include a dimension of sociability. However, sociability did not predict prosocial behaviour in the prosociality test. Yet, the tendency to be prosocial in the prosociality task did predict behaviour in a mutualistic cooperation task. This indicates that sociability and prosociality are separate personality constructs. Further, it suggests that marmosets’ cooperation-prosociality tendency is somewhat similar to the human personality ‘agreeableness’ construct.

A collaboration was started with researchers of University of Vienna to write a review paper of comparative empathy research. While the work is still in progress, one of the central arguments will concern the particular components of empathy that are measured in various animal studies.

We formulated a cross-sectional approach that combines the theory from developmental psychology to that in social interaction research. The new model assesses intersubjective processes as an interaction of levels of cognitive and affective complexity, on the one hand, and of affective, epistemic, and deontic domains of interaction, on the other. The model has applications to research on both human and non-human interactions, in particular the fine-scale processes as they vary in the course of the moment-to-moment unfolding of social action, across different stages of human social development, and between individuals belonging to different clinical groups and even to different species.

Communication and public engagement
4 public talks
4 radio/media engagements
4 public written pieces

Articles in peer-reviewed journals
Koski SE, Stevanovic M. (in press). Intersubjectivity and the domains of social interaction: Proposal of a cross-sectional approach. Psychology of Language and Communication.
Martin JS, Massen JJ, Slipogir V, Bugnyar T, Jaeggi AV, Koski SE (in revision). The EGA+GNM framework: An integrative approach to modelling behavioural syndromes. Methods in Ecology and Evolution.
Martin JS, Bugnyar T, Jaeggi AJ, Bugnyar T, Massen JM, Koski SE (in prep.). Connecting cooperation, prosociality, and personality in common marmosets.
Koski SE, Gschwandegger J, Bugnyar T, Massen JM (in prep.). Emotional contagion in common marmosets.
Koski SE (in prep.) Them and us: is intersubjectivity in non-human species impossibility? To be published in an edited volume entitled, offered to Benjamins.
Adriaense, J., Han, J., Koski SE, Massen J.J.M. & Lamm, C. (in prep.) Challenges and benefits of the comparative study of empathy. To appear in a special issue in PhilTrans B.

Presentations in international conferences
August 2017 Sociology of Interaction, Helsinki.
July 2017 Comparative Affective Science -conference, Leiden.
July 2016 Vienna European Conference of Behavioural Biology.
April 2016 Durham Workshop of Affective Science.
May 2016 Johann Jude Groen -symposium De mens als sociaal dier: Persoonlijkheid, emoties en gezondheid, Amsterdam.
February 2016 Symposium of intersubjectivity at the Centre of Excellence in Intersubjectivity, Helsinki.
The wider social impact of this project is two-fold. First, the message of people's intersubjectivity having deep evolutionary roots carries a poignant message in the society. The project has invited exceptionally wide interest within Finland since its onset; I have given many public talks, interviews and commentaries on the topic. The concrete impact will no doubt influence people's understanding of themselves as a cooperative and intersubjective species.
The second, more tangible impact is to due to the interaction facilitated by my presence at the host institute. Finland has thus far lacked evolutionary or biological anthropology. As the MSCA fellowship brought me in contact with social science and anthropology researchers, an initiative was taken to establish biological anthropology in the faculty of social sciences. Consequently, Helsinki university now provides a graduate-level course on biological anthropology, and a five-year plan has been set to include further courses at every level of the curriculum. This, in short, serves a bridge between social and natural sciences and will considerably improve the cross-disciplinary communication and cooperation. Further, it provides the social science graduates a much-needed fundamental understanding of humans as a biological species.
A still image of a marmoset used as a stimulus image in the study.