The functionalist, or “top-down” computational approach to modeling cognition (Tenenbaum et al., 2006; Griffiths et al., 2010; McClelland et al., 2010) has been widely influential across cognitive science, and recently computational cognitive scientists have extended this approach to the social world (Hills et al., 2015; Jara-Ettinger et al., 2016). Authors have offered rational accounts of a wide range of areas of social cognition, including theory of mind (Baker, et al. 2017), emotion (Ong et al. 2015; Wu et al., 2018), linguistic pragmatics (Goodman and Frank, 2016), morality (Kim et al., 2018), intuitive fairness (Levine et al., 2018), and collective behavior (Hawkins et al., 2018). While computational models have had success producing accurate predictions of individual human behavior in isolated experimental settings, we argue that this modeling strategy tends to fail when applied in broader social contexts. Computational models risk entrenching an implicit assumption that cognition and behavior manifest in a single universal way, and in doing so neglect the many complex factors that contribute to social behavior such as structural power and historical contingency. To address this issue, we offer an alternative framework that emphasizes multi-perspectival, or multiplex, modeling oriented towards understanding the various ways structural factors frame social contexts and give rise to different experiences of shared social contexts. This multiplex modeling approach offers a promising framework for addressing the challenges that conflict, inequality, and positionality pose to universalized functionalist explanations offered by computational models of social cognition and culture.


Sholei Croom is currently a research assistant in the Computational Cognitive Science Lab at MIT led by Josh Tenenbaum, and an organizer with the Movement for Anti-Oppressive Computing Practices. Their research primarily concerns visual perception, action and intuitive physics, but they are also working on projects related to the intersection of cognitive science and critical theory, and the ways that structural power and historical contingency inform social behavior. Sholei received their B.S. in Cognitive Science from Brown University where they were advised by Fulvio Domini and will be entering a PhD program in Psychology at Johns Hopkins where they will be advised by Chaz Firestone.