The Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence Students’ Association and the Cognitive Science program at the University of Toronto present UTISM – a biennial conference that brings together individuals from diverse perspectives to promote an interdisciplinary intellectual exchange on the study of the mind. This year's symposium showcases research relevant to both cognitive science and economics to ask what the relationship should be between the two fields.

Conference Abstract:  Economics and cognitive science both study human rationality and decision-making, refer to dynamic and complex systems, and increasingly turn to insights from neuroscience and evolutionary biology. The interrelationship between economics and cognitive science has recently been demonstrated by the rise of behavioural economics and neuroeconomics, but extends beyond this to include other approaches like the use of artificial agents in economic games. Models foregrounding economic notions such as scarcity and return on investment are common in cognitive science, and the mind has been analogized to a “society” that must reach collective decisions. Yet the Cognitive Science Society does not list economics as one of the fields comprising cognitive science. This conference aims to increase dialogue between interdisciplinary researchers, economists, cognitive scientists, and those within the cognitive science cognate disciplines in order to advance the mutual project of understanding human cognition and behaviour.

Facebook event page:  https://www.facebook.com/events/479356752087564


Speakers and Abstracts

The bioeconomics of relevance realization and general intelligence
John Vervaeke
Department of Psychology; Cognitive Science program; Buddhism, Psychology, and Mental Health program; University of Toronto

Vervaeke, Lillicrap, and Richards (2012) have argued that the central problem facing cognitive science is explaining how cognitive agents selectively attend to relevant information while flexibly ignoring a vast amount of irrelevant information. They further argued that the processes of relevance realization are ultimately economic in nature. Relevance realization runs off the bioeconomic properties of information processing. Vervaeke and Ferraro (forthcoming) argued that relevance realization is the core process of general intelligence and that this is being implemented in the self-organized firing and wiring of the brain. In short, it is internal economics that makes us externally smart.

We were made for politics
Peter John Loewen

Department of Political Science, University of Toronto Mississauga

Humans have complex political preferences. We want to be lead, but are jealous of our liberties and individuality. We want to care for others, but we also want our own needs addressed. We sometimes love competition, while at other times we seek out consensus. This political complexity reflects human complexity. In this talk, I explore how differences between individuals -- in their genes, their brains, and the basic ways they see the world -- matter for politics.

Objective and subjective decision factors in consumer behaviour
Monica Gabriela Cojocaru
Department of Mathematics, University of Guelph
Waterloo Institute for Complexity & Innovation

Modelling human decision processes and their impact on everyday life is today at the forefront of applied and social sciences. The need to understand, quantify, and forecast how individuals and/or populations behave with respect to their surroundings has never been greater, particularly in the face of growing environmental challenges. The process of decision making at the individual level has been studied extensively in operations research and management sciences, optimization, game theory, etc. The main traditional approach is concerned primarily with the study of appropriately defined static (equilibrium) states and their properties, assuming that individuals make rational decisions. For constantly evolving systems however, this is an important, yet not sufficient, approach to describe societal behavior. This is a particularly important question if one studies innovation (new products) and science (new information about a product – e.g. health benefits) driven problems, their complex relationship with policy making, and the ever-changing population composition. In such a setting, the factors influencing individual and/or population attitudes are evolving, so the static theory cannot apply. This talk is centered around several dynamic modeling approaches to population behavior incorporating both objective and subjective decision factors. We present a time-dependent extension of the standard, static model of consumer choice for differentiated products. We use both an agent-based and a partial differential equations approach, and we incorporate social networks effects. In this setting, an individual's choice depends not only on its own attributes, but also on the consumption choices of others in its social network, as well as their peers' influence in their personal decision making. Of central interest is how consumers react to the introduction of a new product in the market.

The importance of genetic modification of birth cohort environments on risky behavior: Evidence from the Framingham Heart Study

Steven Lehrer
School of Policy Studies and Department of Economics, Queen's University

A growing body of literature documents the relative importance of cohorts’ early life conditions, compared to later period environments, on a variety of health and socioeconomic outcomes. It is reasonable to assume that if genetic factors interact with environmental changes then these biological channels may explain some of the heterogeneity in cohort effect estimates. In this study, we use the Framingham Heart Study, a unique dataset that follows adults born across four decades for over 30 years. This data set contains direct information on molecular genetic variation at the individual level of specific markers that in the behavioral genetic literature have been strongly linked with BMI (FTO, MC4R) and smoking intensity (CHRNA3-5). We estimate age-period-cohort models and include a rich set of interactions with genetic variants in an effort to understand the relative importance of the timing of gene-environment effects. We present strong evidence that the effect of all three of our genetic variants have strong and statistically significant interactions with birth cohort indicators on the respective risky behaviors.  In contrast, genetic interactions with contemporaneous environmental and age indicators do not have a significant relationship. Our results are robust to the inclusion of family fixed effects to capture dynastic effects and are consistent with a growing literature in evolutionary biology that proposes there exists an “adaptive disadvantage” impacting differential risk for disease states. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for research in economics, behavioral genetics and public policy.

Reputation and the evolution of generosity

Pat Barclay (keynote)
Department of Psychology, University of Guelph

Many species regularly help non-relatives even when doing so is costly, and humans do so particularly often. What factors cause this generous behaviour to arise and be maintained despite the cost, and why do humans possess a psychology that triggers helping behavior? My work focuses on the personal benefits of helping others, and in particular on the power of reputation for promoting cooperative behaviour. Generous behaviour is one way of competing with others within a market for friends, allies, and associates. Because “generosity” is assessed relative to others, people may even engage in “competitive altruism” where they strive to be more generous than their competitors in this market. I will present empirical and game theoretical results to support these predictions. By viewing helping behaviour within the context of such biological markets, it allows us to generate novel hypotheses about helping behaviour and altruistic sentiment, including predicting individual and cultural differences in generosity, imbalances in reciprocity, and attacks on others’ generous reputations.


Sandford Fleming Building (10 King's College Road), room SF1105
University of Toronto, St. George Campus

November 17, 2012
8:20 Registrations and check-ins begin
Breakfast served in the Sandford Fleming Atrium
9:30 Opening remarks
By James John
John Vervaeke
The bioeconomics of relevance realization and general intelligence
10:45 Peter John Loewen
We were made for politics
11:45 Lunch
In the Sandford Fleming Atrium
1:15 Monica Gabriela Cojocaru
Objective and subjective decision factors in consumer behaviour
2:20 Steven Lehrer
The importance of genetic modification of birth cohort environments on risky behavior: Evidence from the Framingham Heart Study
3:20 Coffee break
In the Sandford Fleming Atrium
3:40 Pat Barclay (keynote)
Reputation and the evolution of generosity

4:45 Panel discussion
Moderated by Leo Ferraro


UTISM 2012 Student Registration $10
UTISM 2012 Non-Student Registration $20



Economics Students Association

Department of Computer Science (U of T)
Department of Linguistics (U of T)
Department of Philosophy (U of T)
Department of Psychology (U of T)
Department of Political Science (U of T)
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (U of T)
Human Biology Program (U of T)
Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (U of T)
Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences (U of T)
University College
Victoria University
New College
Hart House Good Ideas Fund
Arts and Science Students' Union




Greg Katsoras

Master of Ceremonies: James John

Panel Moderator: Leo Ferraro

Time Keeper: Sean Lacy

Emily Denton, Kathleen Hughes, Isaac White, Liza Agrba, Youki Tanaka

Audio & Video: Ammar Ijaz, Khashayar Zayyani, Steven Hill

Graphic Design: Andreea Paraschiv, Naomi Hazlett

Web Design: Gregory Szilagyi

Web Support: Daniel Lewis, Mark Gillis

Special thanks to:
Jeremy Vernon, Harley Mawhinney, Victoria Mothersill, Jesse Berlin, Can Mekik, Adam Golding, David Bahry, Alex Djedovic, Leo Ferraro, Anderson Todd, Justin Brienza, Nancy Zhao, Emanuela Yeung, Naomi Hazlett, Simon Cook, Natalie Cishecki, Joseph Tse, Christopher Balette, Kevin Mackel, James John, Suzanne Puckering, Jonathan Lam, Tiffany Liu, Melissa Caparelli, Ana Ferraro, Brendan Smith

Additional special thanks to all the volunteers who helped make this event possible.

UTISM 2010


Click here for information about the previous session of UTISM, which occurred in 2010.