Recognizing group cognition

Theiner, G, Allen, C., & Goldstone, R. L. (2010). Recognizing group cognition. Cognitive Systems Research11, 378-395.

In this paper, we approach the idea of group cognition from the perspective of the ”extended mind” thesis, as a special case of the more general claim that systems larger than the individual human, but containing that human, are capable of cognition (Clark, 2008; Clark & Chalmers, 1998). Instead of deliberating about ”the mark of the cognitive” (Adams & Aizawa, 2008), our discussion of group cognition is tied to particular cognitive capacities. We review recent studies of group problem solving and group memory which reveal that specific cognitive capacities that are commonly ascribed to individuals are also aptly ascribed at the level of groups. These case studies show how dense interactions among people within a group lead to both similarity-inducing and differentiating dynamics that affect the group’s ability to solve problems. This supports our claim that groups have organization-dependent cognitive capacities that go beyond the simple aggregation of the cognitive capacities of individuals. Group cognition is thus an emergent phenomenon in the sense of Wimsatt (1986). We further argue that anybody who rejects our strategy for showing that cognitive properties can be instantiated at multiple levels in the organizational hierarchy on a priori grounds is a ”demergentist,” and thus incurs the burden of proof for explaining why cognitive properties are ”stuck” at a certain level of organizational structure. Finally, we show that our analysis of group cognition escapes the ”coupling-constitution” charge that has been leveled against the extended mind thesis (Adams & Aizawa, 2008).

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