Grounding social science in cognitive sciences by Ron Sun.

AuthorWang, Yongsheng
PositionBook review

Sun, Ron, ed. Grounding Social Sciences in Cognitive Sciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. ix + 455 pages. Hardcover, $50.00.

This interesting book edited by cognitive scientist Ron Sun argues for incorporating cognitive (i.e. psychological and neurological) approaches into the existing social science analytical framework. Due to the importance of cognition in biological and social evolution, the authors maintain that cognitive understanding should be a common ground for all social sciences. They claim that this change will bring the social sciences closer to the physical sciences and to reality.

The book does not formally define cognitive science, but gives a list of subjects that fall into its realm, including "computational psychology, experimental psychology, linguistics, cognitive neuroscience, and so on" (p. 4). The authors say they do not want to see these fields create new sub-disciplines. They recognize the importance of traditional social science sub-disciplines, arguing that they are well established and have their own analytical structures and traditions. They believe, however, that it is possible to make existing fields better through the application of cognitive sciences.

The book addresses particularly the relationship between cognitive science and culture, politics, and religion. The authors consider anthropology to be the field most closely related to cognitive sciences. It was even considered a part of cognitive science by some researchers. The book focuses on how cognitive models can improve anthropological analysis in the context of culture through the interaction of self-systems and social systems. As the authors explain, "Using models as a unit of culture allows for the linkage between mental representations and social institutions" (p. 89). For political science, the book delineates emotion, discourse, and ethics, as three areas of potential overlap with cognitive science. The authors remind us, "Public opinion is shaped by powerful emotional forces" (p. 128). Moreover, the authors specifically identify anxiety and anger as cognitive factors that can be modeled together with such traditional factors as gender, education, or age in political science models. Since political action is largely language-based, the authors identify possible cognitive models to analyze political language and understand political social interaction. They also assess the possibilities for studying moral choices, particularly in the context...

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