YANSS 257 – The science behind why we so often talk past each other without realizing it and how it impacts everything from politics to penguins

Is a hotdog a sandwich? Well, that depends on your definition of a sandwich (and a hotdog), and according to the most recent research in cognitive science, the odds that your concept of a sandwich is the same as another person’s concept are shockingly low.

In this episode we explore how understanding why that question became a world-spanning argument in the mid 2010s helps us understand some of the world-spanning arguments vexing us today. 

Our guest is psychologist Celeste Kidd who studies how we acquire and conceptualize information, form beliefs around those concepts, and, in general, make sense of the torrent of information blasting our brains each and every second. Her most recent paper examines how conceptual misalignment can lead to semantic disagreements, which can lead us to talk past each other (and get into arguments about things like whether hotdogs are sandwiches).

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Celeste Kidd

Celeste Kidd is a psychologist at Berkeley. She is a cognitive scientist and developmental psychologist who is well known for her research on human curiosity and certainty how human brains develop knowledge.

Her lab, the Kidd Lab, studies the processes involved in knowledge acquisition, especially in young children, using a combination of computational and behavioral methods.

The Kidd Lab employs a range of methods, including eye-tracking and touchscreen testing with human infants, in order to show how learners sample information from their environment and build knowledge gradually over time.

Celeste Kidd’s work has been published in PNASNeuron, Psychological ScienceDevelopmental Science, and elsewhere. Her lab has received funding from NSF, DARPA, Google, the Jacobs Foundation, the Human Frontiers Science Program, and the Templeton Foundation. She is a recipient of the Hellman Fellows award, the American Psychological Science Rising Star designation, the Glushko Dissertation Prize in Cognitive Science, and the Cognitive Science Society Computational Modeling Prize in Perception/Action.

Kidd was also named as one of TIME Magazines 2017 Persons of the Year as one of the “Silence Breakers” for her advocacy for better protections for students against sexual misconduct.

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Previous Episodes 

Why can’t we settle the “is a hot dog a sandwich?” debate?

How Minds Change

David McRaney’s Twitter

YANSS Twitter


Celeste Kidd’s Website

Celeste Kidd’s Twitter

Latent Diversity in Human Concepts