Cognitive Science Speaker Series continues with talk on abstract thinking

Clear light bulb on black chalk board

On Oct. 27, the Cognitive Science Speaker Series returns with a discussion titled “Thinking in the Abstract: Evolutionary Origins” featuring Amanda Seed, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Headshot of Amanda Seed
Amanda Seed

Abstract concepts allow wide-ranging predictions in new situations based on sparse data. Whereas some looking-time studies point towards an early emergence of this ability during the first year of life, others show failure to use abstract concepts like same and different until four to five years of age, and suggest a relationship with linguistic ability. Similarly, the evolutionary emergence of the ability to form abstract concepts remains highly debated, both because of mixed results from non-human primates and different interpretations of positive results following long training regimens. Seed will present data from two recent lines of work, aiming to shed new light on this old question.

The first is a series of experiments designed to test a computational model of abstract knowledge formation; the second is a series of experiments examining the ability to imagine an unseen physical cause to infer the location of food rewards. Seed will suggest an account whereby non-human primates are able to make use of some kinds of abstract information when the testing situation does not overwhelm other cognitive abilities, and discuss what might develop in the later part of the pre-school years to allow children to outperform their nearest primate relatives.

The Cognitive Science Speaker Series is presented by York University’s Department of Philosophy in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. All talks take place on Wednesdays from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. via Zoom. Prior to each talk, the Zoom link will be emailed to all students and faculty from the cognitive science and philosophy departments. Those who want to attend but are not in those departments can email Professor Jacob Beck at from a York email address to request the Zoom link.