Short review: Chris D. Frith, Tania Singer, The role of social cognition in decision making, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B (2008) 363, p. 3875–3886.

[Short review]: Chris D. Frith, Tania Singer, The role of social cognition in decision making, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B (2008) 363, p. 3875–3886.


(1) Social cognition is a process which shouldn’t be analyzed in isolation from moral intuitions, motivational biases, and high-level executive control. It’s a complex and complicated set of various elements which “works” together in order to making a decision.

(2) Model of decision making proposed by Evans plays a very important role in legal thought. Cognition and emotions have equally important function in case moral judgment, and also when it comes to making economic decisions. Emotions not always, as Damasio wants, lead us astray. However, rational, affect-free decisions in the domain of economics are not always economically effective (from long-time perspective).


Authors analyse a wide range of  topics which  are strongly connected with various models of social decision making. For example, in this paper we can find remarks about neuronal mirror systems responsible for understanding other people’s motor actions and action intentions. Mirror neurons – a hot topic in the contemporary neuroscience and moral psychology – are also mentioned as higher order mirror systems in our brain, allowing us to understand and even share emotions and sensations with others. At the even higher level, we are able to construct “theory of mind” (TOM), which allows us to understand beliefs of wishes in others. Above mentioned tools are crucial for making decisions in social domain. However, after describing them, authors move to other topic – the interaction between emotions and reason in social decision making. This second problem is popular and well describe in literature of the subject (J. Haidt, O.R. Goodennough and K. Prehn, J.Kennett and C. Folin and many others). They discuss emotion/reason dichotomy in four situations: (1) our sense of fairness, (2) altruistic punishment, (3) trust, (4) the framing effect. What is new in the paper, is setting the common ground for moral and economic decisions. It seems that authors agree with the possibility that we will be able to build a general model of social decision making, and not only – as we can today – incomplete models of decision making in moral, economic and legal domain.


The paper is well written and very interesting. Unquestionably, the strongest point of it is a presentation of influence on social decision making such mechanisms like: neuronal mirror systems, empathy, and theory of mind (TOM). Theses presented in the paper are well documented by empirical data (lesion, behavioral, and neuroimagining data). When it comes to emotion/reason problem, we know today more than authors write in their article. For example, a trolley dilemma, and footbridge dilemma are more complicated, and they prove something else than Firth and Singer want to. But it’s still a very good piece of work form moral psychology and neuroeconomics.


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