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The social construction of shared concepts


The social construction of shared concepts empirical study of a distributed cognitive process. – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The social construction of shared concepts

The social construction of shared concepts
  • empirical study of a distributed cognitive

1. Abstract
  • Recently, different disciplines have come to
    regard cognition as a social phenomenon,distribute
    d over a group of individuals. Sociologists have
    noted long ago that knowledge is a social
    construction (Berger Luckman, 1967), however
    without proposing an explicit model of this
  • In this project we intend to investigate
    empirically different socio-cognitive processes
    through which shared concepts are constructed out
    of individual concepts. We shall focus in
    particular on the factors that influence this
    processes and on the manner in which the
    resulting "consensual" concepts differ from the
    initial individual concepts. That, we hope,
    will give us a better insight into the mechanisms
    guiding distributed knowledge development, which
    in turn will allow us to increase the efficiency
    and reliability of that process.

2. Introduction
  • Constructivism reality of constructsreality is
    independent of human thought but the meaning or
    knowledge is always a human construction.
  • Giovanni Battista Vico (XVII)Verum est ipse
    factum the true is precisely what is made.
  • Lev Vygotski, Jean Piagetsocial constructivism,
    learning theory, ZPD.
  • Heinz von Foerster, Ernst von Glaserfeldradical
  • Paul WatzlawickHow do we know what we believe
    we know?
  • George Kellygroup expectancies as validators for
    personal constructs
  • Herbert Simon, Ed Hutchinssciences of the
    artificial cybernetics, cognitivism, disrtibuted
  • ...

3. Aim
  • empirical measurement and comparison of
    different factors of social interaction
    (interface) -online -live discussion -face
    to face carrousel different concepts -fruit
    vetgetables -sport -happiness via different
    measures -responsvariability in
    groups -conditional entropy (consensus/oppositio
    n) -interraterreliability (consistency of
    responsepatterns between individuals in the
    group, Cronbachs alpha, correlation measures)

4. Research hypotheses
  • Operationalisation of concept the
    distributed,external approach (Heylighen, 1999
    Van Overwalle et al. ,2003),i.e. a process of
    categorisation, whereby phenomena are classified
    as instances of the concept to a greater or
    lesser degree. A concept can thus be represented
    as a vector of which the components correspond
    to the earlier mentioned categorization
  • Concepts are abstractions of recurrent aspects
    of reality. Each individual experiences the world
    from its own perspective, therefore those
    abstractions will differ also, in the sense that
    the categories will not completely overlap.

4. Research hypotheses
  • In order to communicate effectively, different
    individuals must use the same categories.
  • An interacting group will undergo a proces of
    self-organisation (Steels, 1998, Bonabeau et
    al.,1998), whereby out of local interactions a
    global, more coherent pattern emerges. This
    implies that the divergence in categorisation
    among individuals will diminisch, ideally leading
    to a single concept.
  • This shared concept will be fitter than the
    initial concepts, as it will integrate the
    diversity of subjective experiences in a broader,
    intersubjective whole.

5. Operationalisation
  • For each subject, the individual concept is
    represented by a vector. The comparison of the
    different vectors gives us an objective measure
    for the spread or diversity in the viewpoints.
    The average of the vectors defines the
    collective concept for the group (Heylighen,
  • After the subjects have interacted, individual
    and averaged concepts are measured again.
  • Expectancies1) The spread among the subjects
    will diminisch.2) The collective concept will be
    consolidated agreed vector components
    strenghtened, disagreed vector components
    weakened. (consensus)3) Possible polarisation in
    case of strong divergence, splitting the vectors
    in different clusters that could be seen as
    alternative interpretations of the concept.

6. Empirical approach
  • In our basic set-up, a small group (about 10) of
    experimental subjects are requested to discuss a
    given concept, with the objective of achieving a
    shared understanding. The concept is chosen such
    that everyone has some experience with it, but
    there remains sufficient vagueness or ambiguity
    to allow different interpretations.
  • To minimize the risk for emotional arguments or
    political games, the concepts were selected to be
    as neutral as possible (fruit, sport,
    happiness), and the participants are told
    explicitly that there wont be any winners or

6. Empirical approach
  • The subjects are informed about the subject
    before the experiment, so that they can prepare
    their thoughts without mutually influencing each
    other. They are asked in particular to suggest a
    number of examples, counterexamples and
    intermediate cases of the category. We select the
    most representative ones of those, and submit the
    resulting list of twenty items to all subjects.
    We ask them to score each one on a 7-point scale,
    indicating the degree to which they consider it
    to belong to the category. This produces the
    initial concept vectors for all participants

7. Written version
  • In the written version of the experiment, the
    interaction takes place asynchronously,using an
    electronic discussion system developed by F.
    Heylighen. (Each participant starts with a short
    description of what the concept means for him or
    her, and then is allowed to reply to the
    interpretations of others, using examples,
    arguments and counterarguments. After a period
    long enough to allow each subject to intervene
    several times, the discussion is stopped, and the
    concept vectors are measured again. The
    statistical comparison of initial and final
    vectors provides us with a quantitative analysis
    of the evolution of the concept. A textual
    analysis of the different interventions provides
    us with a more qualitative picture of the
    arguments and factors that have influenced the
    outcome. The possible reasons why a particular
    participant has or has not changed positions are
    explored by focused interviews.

8. Oral version
  • The oral version of the experiment is similar,
    except that the group of participants now discuss
    face-to-face during a two hour session without
    facilitation. Concept vectors are again measured
    before and after the session. The discussion is
    recorded on videotape, and afterwards analysed
    for specific factors that appear to have
    influenced the outcome. Immediately after the
    session, selected participants are interviewed in
    order to explore their unstated reasons for
    changing their perspective.
  • The results of the happiness-goup are
    correlated with an averaged expert-score before
    and after the interaction. A significantly
    increase of thecorrelation, confirms the
    hypothesis (fitter concept)

9. Results Discussion
  • In our two forum groups (written version) and the
    two live- interaction groups about the
    sport-concept, we dont see any of our
    hypotheses confirmed. Only in the carrousel-group
    wee see a slight significant (sign.088)
    diminishment of the spread. In the forum-groups
    the spread did not change significantly. In the
    live discussion group we measured an even
    significant raise of the spread, but our
    qualitative analysis revealed an orally
    negociated way of quotation, what led to a
    certain polarisation. We also could measure this
    trend as a diminishing entropy in this
    interaction. If we take a closer look
    nevertheless, we encounter a very high initial
    value for Cronbachs alpha (gt.9) for all the four
    groups, which suggests a firm consistency from
    the beginning. The concept was already gridded.

9. Results Discussion
  • In our Happiness-groups on the contrary, all our
    expectations were confirmed. There was a
    significant fall of the spread in the two
    cases(.09) for the discussion and (sign .341) for
    the face-to-face carrousel.
  • The comparison of the correlations between the
    scores of de students and the experts revealed a
    raise for either of the conditions, what confirms
    our hypothesis.