The True Self & Personal Identity

Representations of and beliefs about the concept of “a self” vary across cultures, perspectives (first vs. third), and individuals. Yet my collaborators and I have found evidence suggesting that people exhibit a robust, invariant tendency to believe that deep inside every individual there is a “good true self” calling them to behave in a morally virtuous manner. We propose that this belief arises from a general cognitive tendency known as psychological essentialism.


Common Knowledge, Coordination, and Strategic Mentalizing in Social Life

My collaborators and I have investigated how representations of knowledge -- including shared knowledge (e.g., you know X, I know that you know X), and common knowledge (you know X, I know that you know X, you know that I know that you know X, ad infinitum) -- affect diverse social phenomena such as the bystander effect and perceptions of charitability. We propose that -- rather than being represented as an explicit, multiply nested proposition -- common knowledge may be a distinctive cognitive state, corresponding to the sense that something is public or "out there". 


Moral Judgment: How It Works, and Affects Non-Moral Cognition

Some of these papers investigate how we come to form moral judgments, including how the mind maps from vision to the propositional ingredients of moral judgment, and the effect of  'teleological' (rather than mental) factors on moral judgment. The other papers reveal the pervasive impact of morality on non-moral intuitions in intuitive physics and psychology, e.g., whether someone caused an outcome, or is happy, 

The Origin of Animate Attention

Humans naturally pay attention to other animate agents in their environment, a prosocial behavior that has been documented as early as a few weeks. What internal mechanisms give rise to this behavior? A standard hypothesis is that the human brain has a built-in module that specifically detects animacy from visual input. Yet we find evidence that animate attention naturally arises from a more general process of curiosity driven learning. This work utilizes a threeD environment that we created for model and human testing (using VR), as well as real-world robot setups. 

  • De Freitas, J., Kim, K. H., Haber, N., Conwell, C., Alvarez, G. A., & Yamins, D. L. K. Intrinsic curiosity may give rise to animate attention. Journal of Vision

  • Kim, K. H., Sano, M., Haber, N., De Freitas, J., & Yamins, D. L. K. Learning to attend with progress curiosity. Under review. 

  • Various authors. ThreeDWorld: A Platform for interactive multi-modal physical simulation. Under review. 

Other papers

  • De Freitas, J., Anthony, S. E., Censi, A., Frazzoli, E., & Alvarez, G. A. (2019). Doubting driverless dilemmas: Towards behavioral diagnostics for autonomous vehicles. PsyArXiv. 

  • DeScioli, P., Karpoff, R., & De Freitas, J. (2017). Ownership dilemmas: The case of finders versus                       landowners. Cognitive Science, 41(S3), 502–522.

  • De Freitas, J., Liverence, B., & Scholl, B. J. (2014). Attentional rhythm: A temporal analogue of object-based attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(1), 71–76. 

  • De Freitas, J., Myers, N. E., & Nobre, A. C. (2016). Tracking the changing feature of a moving object. Journal of Vision, 16(3), 1–21.