Current Projects Overview

We have several projects ongoing in the lab led by our fabulous lab members. These projects cover a wide range of topics and methods.

  • What people learn from punishment: joint inference of wrongness and punisher’s motivations from observation of punitive choices
    Radkani, Setayesh; Saxe, Rebecca
    Abstract | Punishment is a cost imposed on a target, in response to an un- desirable action. Yet choosing to punish also reveals information about the authority’s own motives and values. We propose that observers jointly infer the wrongness of the action and the authority’s motivations. Using hypothetical scenarios in un- familiar societies, we experimentally manipulated observers’ prior beliefs and measured human observers’ inferences after observing punishment. These inferences were …
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  • Violations of physical and psychological expectations in the human adult brain
    Liu, Shari; Lydic, Kirsten; Mei, Lingjie; Saxe, Rebecca
    Abstract | When adults see one solid object pass through another, or see a person take the long route to a destination when a short-cut was available, we classify those events as surprising. Infants look longer at the same unexpected outcomes, compared with visually similar but expected outcomes, in violation-of-expectation (VOE) experiments. What domain-specific and domain-general cognitive processes support these judgments? In a pre-registered experiment, we scanned 32 adults using functional …
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  • People have systematic expectations linking social relationships to patterns of reciprocal altruism
    Chen, Alicia; Saxe, Rebecca
    Abstract | In two-person asymmetric coordination dilemmas, both people are better off if they coordinate, but one person benefits more than the other. When these interactions recur, people can form expectations to balance who is better off over time. What does it mean when asymmetric social interactions recur, and what can we learn from how people solve these dilemmas? We hypothesize that people expect social interactions to recur when two people are in a social relationship, and that knowing …
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  • Development of navigational affordance perception in infancy
    Kamps, Frederik S.; Chen, Emily; Mah, Adele; Washburn, Stephanie; Saxe, Rebecca
    Abstract | Shortly after learning to crawl or walk, toddlers successfully use vision to guide navigation through the local visual space. How does this ability develop? One hypothesis is that the emergence of navigational affordance perception depends on active navigation experience (e.g., crawling). However, this hypothesis has never been tested, as almost all prior work conflates perception of navigational affordances with the integration of this information into a motor plan. Here we …
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  • Reasoning about the antecedents of emotions: Bayesian causal inference over an intuitive theory of mind
    Houlihan, Sean Dae; Ong, Desmond; Cusimano, Maddie; Saxe, Rebecca
    Abstract | It is commonly believed that expressions visually signal rich diagnostic information to human observers. We studied how observers interpret the dynamic expressions that people spontaneously produced during a real-life high-stakes televised game. We find that human observers are remarkably poor at recovering what events elicited others’ facial and bodily expressions. Beyond simple inaccuracy, people’s causal reasoning exhibits systematic model-based patterns of errors. We …
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  • Modeling punishment as a rational communicative social action
    Radkani, Setayesh; Tenenbaum, Josh; Saxe, Rebecca
    Abstract | When deciding whether and how to punish, people consider not only the potential direct consequences, but also, how their choice will affect observers’ judgements about the values and motives underlying the choice. We formalize the decision to punish as a rational communicative social action (RCSA). The model generates rational decisions to punish, incorporating anticipated observers’ judgements obtained from a recursive model of inference using an intuitive theory of mind. Using this …
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  • Modeling risky food sharing as rational communication about relationships
    Hung, Michelle Simona; Thomas, Ashley J; Radkani, Setayesh; Tenenbaum, Josh; Saxe, Rebecca
    Abstract | The way two people choose to share food reveals how close their relationship is. Very close relationships alleviate the discomfort of exchanging saliva. We measure human inferences about relationships from observed food sharing actions with variable risks of saliva exchange; and then use a formal model of inverse planning to quantitatively capture these inferences. The model that best fits human judgments construes food sharing as a rational communicative social action, according to …
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  • Habituation reflects optimal exploration over noisy perceptual samples
    Cao, Anjie; Raz, Gal; Saxe, Rebecca; Frank, Michael C.
    Abstract | From birth, humans constantly make decisions about what to look at and for how long. Yet the mechanism behind such decision-making remains poorly understood. Here we present the rational action, noisy choice for habituation (RANCH) model. RANCH is a rational learning model that takes noisy perceptual samples from stimuli and makes sampling decisions based on Expected Information Gain (EIG). The model captures key patterns of looking time documented in developmental research: …
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  • Face-preferring regions in FFA, STS, and MPFC have different functions.
    Kosakowski, Heather L; Kanwisher, Nancy; Saxe, Rebecca
    Abstract | Faces are an important source of perceptual and social information. Multiple cortical regions including the fusiform faces area (FFA), the superior temporal sulcus (STS), and medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) respond more to dynamic faces than videos of toy objects, human bodies, and pastoral scenes. Do face-preferring regions in FFA, STS, and MPFC have different functions? To address this question, we re-analyzed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data from seven different …
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  • Measuring language-evoked activation in the brains of awake toddlers using fMRI
    Olson, Halie; Chen, Emily; Saba, Somaia; Saxe, Rebecca
    Objective: Toddlers undergo immense changes in their language comprehension and production in a short period of time. However, compared to other age groups, we know relatively little about the neural underpinnings of language comprehension during this important developmental period, as awake toddlers are challenging to study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Our goal was to create a task tailored to this age group using engaging, naturalistic stimuli, as well as adapt our …
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Note: that Prof Saxe is not currently planning any new projects about Autism or false belief tasks.

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