On how the calculus of utility of actions drives many human behaviours

Julian Jara-Ettinger, Hyowon Gweon, Laura E. Schulz, Joshua B. Tenenbaum, The Naïve Utility Calculus: Computational Principles Underlying Commonsense Psychology, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 20, Issue 8, 2016, Pages 589-604, ISSN 1364-6613, DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.05.011.

We propose that human social cognition is structured around a basic understanding of ourselves and others as intuitive utility maximizers: from a young age, humans implicitly assume that agents choose goals and actions to maximize the rewards they expect to obtain relative to the costs they expect to incur. This \u2018naïve utility calculus\u2019 allows both children and adults observe the behavior of others and infer their beliefs and desires, their longer-term knowledge and preferences, and even their character: who is knowledgeable or competent, who is praiseworthy or blameworthy, who is friendly, indifferent, or an enemy. We review studies providing support for the naïve utility calculus, and we show how it captures much of the rich social reasoning humans engage in from infancy.

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