Seminars of the Department of Psychology

Ansgar Endress, City University of London, UK
Duplications and domain-specificity

Cognition might be characterized by “domain-general” mechanisms that apply across domains, or by domain-specific mechanisms that are specific to different domains. I draw on research on statistical learning and the detection identity relations (e.g., the ability to notice that the last two syllables in “dubaba” are identical) to suggest that some mechanisms are available in many domains but not in many others, and that individual abilities to use a given mechanism are relatively uncorrelated across domains.  As such, these mechanisms can be neither domain-specific (as they exist in multiple domains), nor domain-general (as they don’t exist in all domains, and do not correlate across domains).


I use these results to argue for the existence of intermediate states between domain-generality and domain-specificity that I call “domain-bound.” Domain-bound mechanisms might exist in multiple domains (and thus are not domain-specific), but not in other domains (and thus are not domain-general). I argue that similar phenomena might arise in two of the most prototypical domain-general mechanisms: attention, and at least in some species, inhibition, raising the question of whether fully domain-general mechanisms exist, and whether those mechanisms that appear to be domain-general might not be domain-bound.


I provide a straightforward evolutionary explanation of domain-bound mechanisms. Just as molecular and morphological traits, cognitive mechanisms might become duplicated over the course of evolution, resulting in independent, localized copies in different domains. As a result, the specificity of a domain might reflect which elemental computations are available within this domain, and how they can be combined.



Monday, June 10, h.14.30

Graduation Hall of the Department of Psychology,  U6 Building (3rd floor)

Free entry.


Prof. Carlo Reverberi