Nick Chater

15 Nov, 4 – 6pm: G37, Senate House, London

The social contract in miniature: Virtual Bargaining and the theory of joint action, meaning and fairness

How can people coordinate their actions or make joint decisions? One possibility is that each person attempts to predict the actions of the other(s), and best-responds accordingly. But this can lead to bad outcomes, and sometimes even vicious circularity. An alternative view is that each person attempts to work out what the two or more players would agree to do, if they were to bargain explicitly. If the result of such a “virtual” bargain is “obvious,” then the players can simply play their respective roles in that bargain. I suggest that virtual bargaining is essential to genuinely social interaction (rather than viewing other people as instruments), and may even be uniquely human. This approach aims to respect methodological individualism, a key principle in many areas of social science, while explaining how human groups can, in a very real sense, be “greater” than the sum of their individual members.

This talk will focus not just on content, but also on the nature of the interdisciplinary interactions underpinning this work: which is a mixture of cognitive psychology, political theory, game theory, organizational and philosophy.

Based on co-authored work with Jennifer Misyak, Tigran Melkonyan & Hossam Zeitoun

Nick Chater is Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School. He works on the cognitive and social foundations of rationality and language. He has published more than 250 papers, co-authored or edited more than a dozen books, has won four national awards for psychological research, and has served as Associate Editor for the journals Cognitive Science, Psychological Review, and Psychological Science. He was elected a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society in 2010 and a Fellow of the British Academy in 2012. Nick is co-founder of the research consultancy Decision Technology and is a member on the UK’s Committee on Climate Change. He is the author of The Mind is Flat (2018).