InStance
Intentional Stance for social attunement


Prof. Agnieszka Wykowska explains, in a nutshell, the background and aims of the ERC project.

The ability to understand and predict others’ behavior is crucial in daily life. From driving a car on a busy street to playing a team game such as football, we constantly need to anticipate what other people will do. When predicting others’ behavior, we adopt specific predictive strategies (Dennett, 2003). For example, in the case of interactions with other human agents, the Intentional Stance (Dennett, 2003) works best. Adopting the intentional stance consists of predicting behavior with reference to the agent’s mental states such as beliefs, desires, and intentions. That is, when I see a person gazing at a glass filled with water and extending her arm in its direction, I automatically surmise that she intends to grasp it because she feels thirst, believes that water will ease her need, and hence wants to drink water.

However, for non-intentional systems (such as human-made artifacts), we achieve the most efficient predictions adopting the Design Stance. Using such strategy, we assume that the system would respond according to the purpose it was designed for (i.e., pushing the brakes will reduce the speed of the car). Adopting either the intentional stance or the design stance has profound consequences not only on the type of predictions we create but also on the chances of becoming engaged in a social situation. For example, when I see somebody is pointing, I assume that such behavior has an intention (i.e., I adopt the intentional stance Then, I direct my attention to that location, and we establish a joint focus of attention, thereby becoming socially attuned. On the contrary, if I see that a machine’s artificial arm is pointing somewhere, I might be unwilling to attend there, as I do not believe that the machine wants to show me something, i.e., there is no intentional communicative content in the gesture. 


This raises the question: to what extent are humans ready to attune socially with artificial systems that have human-like appearance, such as humanoid robots? It might be that once a robot imitates human-like behaviour at the level of subtle (and often implicit) social signals, humans might automatically perceive its behaviour as reflecting mental states. This will presumably evoke social cognition mechanisms to the same (or similar) extent as in human-human interactions, allowing social attunement.

Let's Talk! An interview with Agnieszka Wykowska, ERC winner

Funding and support

This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme by the European Research Council (ERC) grant [No. ERC-2016-STG 715058] InStance: Intentional Stance for Social Attunement awarded to Prof. Agnieszka Wykowska. Additionally, some studies closely related to InStance are supported by internal funds from the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT).

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