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DLG Conference 2005. Download the final report (.pdf) of the conference.



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Distributed Thinking

Distributed Thinking: A Symposium. University of Hertfordshire, 19 June 2008

Distributed thinking is concerned with how we do what we do in the world. Making action and interaction into the domain of analysis, we ask what humans do with what they know (knowledge) and how their intelligence plays out. Rather than focus exclusively on what goes on inside the head, we also attend to the resources used in acting and thinking. We came to distributed thinking from different perspectives. Starting from investigation of how children learn to talk, the nature of language impairment and the nature of concepts , we gradually moved away from traditional cognitive views. We now see language as a resource available for problem solving, which, much of the time, may also stand in the way. Emphasis is thus given to how children learn to talk and, by solving problems, come to think. Experience is central to action and language functions as a major developmental resource. Language impairment is not separable from thinking (as often assumed) but, rather, intrinsic to distributed thinking.

Whereas distributed cognition emphasises processing and models of working memory, we regard cognition as spreading beyond memory and perception/ attention. These processes take place in neural timescales as evidenced by reaction time studies, fmri studies and so on. On the distributed view, however, emphasis falls on how activities are integrated across timescales. Distributed thinking thus incorporates rapid neural reactions such as eye movements or gaze with more complex cycles of action. Experience is central to how, in lived time, we think and language together while integrating external resources with concerted activity. To pursue investigation of distributed thinking, therefore, a primary challenge is to develop new methodologies.

In cognitive psychology, we look at human cognition in tasks during where brain, body and world often interact. Our challenge, then, is to tease out the cognitive roles of brain, body and world. To this end, we invoke both (inner) capacities and (what can be called) co-acting assemblages. We thus need new ways of examining –and quantifying –observations. We wish to investigate: ( 1) how the same assemblages adapt to different environments; and 2) how activity varies as environmental conditions/ human components change. Further, we need a model of assemblages that may integrate (a) executive control systems); (b) neural slave systems; and (c) bodily processes (micro-action). As a result body-world relations arise as brain-side functions mutually regulate the bodily processes that allow shifting forms of control over the system’s external components.

Speakers: (Use name link to go to speakers abstract)

Anthony, Sue (Hertfordshire)

Baber, Chris (Birmingham) - download presentation /slides

Bonnefon, Jean-François (CNRS)

Clowes, Rob (Sussex)

Cowley, Stephen (Hertfordshire) - download presentation /slides

Fioratou, Evie (Aberdeen)
Healey, Patrick (Queen Mary) - download presentation /slides

Ryder, Nuala (Hertfordshire)

Perry, Mark (Brunel) - download presentation /slides

Spiekermann, Kai (University of Warwick) - download presentation /slides

Vallee-Tourangeau, Fred (Kingston) - download presentation /slides


Sue Anthony and Nuala Ryder: Hertfordshire
"Thinking ain't (all) in the head"
Understanding performance on a number of cognitive tasks such as problem solving, memory and comprehension has traditionally focused on internal representations and the processes that act upon them. Results of a number of studies suggest that this approach provides only a partial explanation of how people perform on these tasks. What seems to be missing is a systematic account of the role of their experiences with past and present external resources. These resources may include people, the physical environment and specific artefacts. The presentation will discuss this apparent oversight in cognitive psychology in the light of methodological challenges that are posed.

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Chris Baber: Birmingham
"Crime Scene Examination as Distributed Cognition: theory and technology"–
There are three main strands to this talk. First, I will argue that the process of Crime Scene Examination can be usefully considered as a form of Distributed Cognition in that the CSE needs to translate artifacts in the world into evidence and this requires an interaction between objects-in-the-world and the CSE's interpretation of what constitutes evidence. Second, the notion of 'evidence' requires a broad consideration of cognition as being performed by several parties within the criminal investigation process.
This requires not only consensus on what constitutes evidence but also managing the exchange of information and artifacts. Third, we have developed wearable computers that can support the recovery and logging of artifacts in a manner that we believe can support distributed cognition.

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Bonnefon, Jean-François: CNRS
"An interdisciplinary approach to decision makers' trust in vague and partial expert recommendations mediated by computer platforms."
Sylvie Leblois, Jonathan Ben-Naim, Jean-François Bonnefon, Andreas Herzig, Emiliano Lorini
Important decisions are rarely made in isolation, in particular because individual decision-makers may not have all the knowledge and expertise they would need. In such a situation, it is not uncommon for the decision-maker to collect the recommendation of one or several experts before making the decision. Nowadays, this consultation can take place through dedicated web-based computer platforms. It has been claimed that the most important issue raised by this medium of
distributed cognition is that of Trust, as it is essential to understand the determinants and the consequences of the trust that the decision-maker develops in the expert recommendations he or she is receiving through the platform. These questions are even more salient in situations where there are several potential experts to consult, in
situations where experts commonly make vague recommendations, and in situations where experts cannot be considered totally impartial, because they are likely to have a stake in the consequences of the decision they are informing. We adopt an interdisciplinary approach to the issue of trust in vague and partial expert recommendations mediated by computer platforms. More precisely, we describe how the problem can be tackled through a combination of the experimental and formal methods of cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence, and we review the methodological innovations required for that task, both within and accross our disciplinary borders. The art marketprovides us with a paradigmatical case where naive sellers can seek the recommendations of experts through computer platforms, where the experts cannot usually give point-estimations of the value of a piece, and where the experts may have a personal interest in the value that is attributed to a piece.

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Rob Clowes: Sussex.
"Distributed Thinking and Internalisation"
It seems there is some growing consensus among the research community that there is such a thing as distributed thinking. This is presumably supposed to be something more than many individuals thinking about the same thing separately. But what is distributed thinking? Core cases of what people refer to as thinking seem to be at least attributed by many people as some sort of 'inward' process albeit with external correlates (Hurlburt, Koch, & Heavey, 2002). Speaking of distributed thinking could of course be a redefinition of terms, building on past talk of distributed cognition (Hutchins, 1995), or the extended or external mind (Clark & Chalmers, 1998). By analogy an analysis of distributed thinking might proceed from some of the principles which are currently being deployed here (i.e. the use of the parity principle). And yet, inwardness itself stands in some need of explanation, and further might help us clarify what distributed thinking might actually be. I will look at this question with the help of some minimal simulation models that might help explain some of the dynamics of medium time-scale human thought, and how even "inward" thinking can be seen to depend in some ways upon social action.

Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The Extended Mind. Analysis, 58, 10-23.
Hurlburt, R., Koch, M., & Heavey, C. (2002). Descriptive Experience Sampling Demonstrates the Connection of Thinking to Externally Observable Behavior. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 26(1), 117-134.
Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the Wild. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

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Evie Fioratou, University of Aberdeen
"Essential DEEDS for Improving Anaesthetists' Cognition."
In this presentation, I will explore the role of the DEEDS (Dynamical, Embodied, Extended, Distributed, & Situated) approach in improving anaesthetists' cognition in the operating theatre. I will argue for the importance of studying the dynamic interaction between the anaesthetist, the patient, the surgical team and all the external resources in the OR environment (e.g., monitors, charts) in order to understand the implications of such dynamic an interaction on cognition. Furthermore, I will consider the development of cognitive skills in anaesthesia training from a DEEDS perspective, in which "scaffolding", embodied, and emergent experiences play crucial roles. The practical relevance for applications to simulation training will thus be explored and future research ideas will be suggested.

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Pat Healey: Queen Mary
“Interactive Misalignment: The Role of Repair in the Development of Group Sub-languages”
The argument developed in this paper is that interaction provides a key source of constraints on language change. In particular, that the local processes involved in the detection and resolution of interpretive misalignments directly constrain the kinds of sub-language that people can develop. The main evidence for these claims is drawn from two sets of experimental studies involving collaborative tasks in which communication is either graphically or verbally mediated. I present evidence from a set of group sub-language experiments that particular histories of direct interaction -- independently of task exposure or experience -- play a critical role in group sub-language convergence. I then present evidence from a second set of experiments that these effects depend on specific interactional mechanisms; people's ability to juxtapose and contrast elements of one another's turns. Finally I argue that the primary function of these mechanisms is to detect and resolve misalignments.

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Mark Perry: Brunel
"Making use of things to think with: the mobilisation of social and physical resources in enabling distributed cognition"
The presentation will explore the role of distributed cognition in human activity, and how we as researchers can come to understand more about the role of embodiment and situatedness in human behaviour. As a research or theoretical tool, DCog explores the interplay between mind and body, and the physical, social and cultural contexts within which activity occurs, and which form an intelligent system as an emergent property of this interaction (or, at least, can be usefully considered as forming a meta-cognitive system). Here, the role of internal mental cognitive behaviour is seen in managing the co-ordination of representations and processes. It is in this area that the presentation will focus - how the resources in settings are co-ordinated by human actors and the physical manipulations that are applied to enable the symbolic transformations necessary for distributed problem solving. Yet whilst it is itself seen as a correction to the problems of traditional cognitive science, DCog itself has some practical limitations to its use and a number of academic questions regarding its theoretical foundations, and these will also be addressed.

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Kai Spiekermann: University of Warwick
"Judgement Aggregation, Social Choice, and Distributed Thinking"
Social choice theory aims to explore the possibility of aggregating individual preferences into collective preferences. Aggregation procedures should meet certain conditions, in particular regarding rationality, fairness, responsiveness, and non-manipulability. Social choice theory shows that aggregation is often impossible, given some seemingly weak conditions for the aggregation procedure. Arrow’s Theorem, for instance, shows that there is no non-dictatorial aggregation of preference rankings if the aggregation function is required to produce reflexive, connected and transitive social orderings and meets three conditions: universal domain, independence of irrelevant alternatives, and the weak Pareto principle. In recent years, judgement aggregation has emerged as an important area of social choice theory. Judgement aggregation is concerned with aggregating sets of individual judgements over logically connected propositions into a set of collective judgements. Again, it can be shown that even seemingly weak conditions on the aggregation function lead to impossibility results. This implies that the step from individual judgements to collective judgements faces dilemmas and trade-offs between different desiderata, such as universal domain, rationality, epistemological quality, fairness, et cetera. These dilemmas challenge us to decide which conditions we should relax. The typical application for judgement aggregation is the problem of group decision making. Juries and expert committees are the stock examples. However, the relevance of judgement aggregation goes beyond these cases. It conveys easily to other settings where distributed sets of logically connected information must be aggregated into collective information, that is to cases of distributed thinking and collective intelligence.

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Fred Vallee-Tourangeau: Kingston
“Verbal Fluency and Interactive Skills in a Word Generation Task”
In attempting to solve a wide variety of tasks, people naturally seek to modify their external environment such that the physical space in which they work is more amenable or ‘congenial’ to achieving a desired outcome. Scientists build and tinker with physical models of their object of investigation, an interactive process that provides important perceptual feedback that drives the generation and evaluation of novel hypotheses. On a more quotidian level, people use simple artifacts or alter the physical environment to enhance their prospective memory or facilitate the execution of everyday tasks. In doing so, a reasoner delegates some of the information storage or computational costs onto her immediate surroundings, and the problem solving activity is distributed among resources internal and external to the reasoner.

Attempts to determine the effectiveness of certain artifacts or spatial reorganizations in aiding reasoners solve problems must be relativised to the difficulty of the task and the cognitive abilities of the reasoners. These factors were examined using a simple word production task with letter tiles. Two sets of tiles that differed in terms of word-production difficulty were selected. Participants were asked to produce as many words as they could within a finite time period for each letter set. In one group, participants were encouraged to rearrange or touch the tiles when producing words, and in the other group, participants could not interact with or point to the tiles. Participants were further split in a low and high verbal fluency group as a function of their score on the Thurstone word fluency test taken at the end of the experiment. In the high fluency group, letter rearrangement did not improve the participants’ ability to generate words. In contrast, in the low verbal fluency group, letter rearrangement significantly enhanced the ability to produce new words from both the hard and easy letter set. For these participants, the task was more taxing and the opportunity to restructure the letter set substantially elevated their performance.

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