Lasana Harris’ presentation will focus on flexible social cognition—our ability to infer the mental states of other people, animals, and non-human objects, and to withhold this ability in the presence of others. This latter phenomenon termed dehumanised perception is moderated by the social context, such that people read cues from the situation, as well as their own motives and goals, to determine whether they should employ social cognition. As such, flexible social cognition can lead to benefits in addition to its contribution to societal harms.
He will first discuss evolutionary, philosophical, and developmental arguments that may describe the evolution and development of flexible social cognition. He will then present brain and behavioural research demonstrating both personal benefits and societal harms that result from flexible social cognition across legal, economic, and health-care domains. Finally, Harris will discuss the implications of this research for policy.