Cooperation, Communication, and Pragmatics

1 Course information

Lecture Times Thursdays 10am-11:30am (with a few exceptions; see below)
Lecture Location 46-5193
Class webpage

2 Instructor information

Instructor Roger Levy (
Instructor's office 46-3033
Instructor's office hours Wednesdays 10:00-11:30am (subject to change)

3 Course Description

An individual human mind can pull off remarkable feats, but collections of human minds working together are capable of even more. Every day we overcome – and capitalize on! – differences in our abilities, goals, and knowledge states to act cooperatively and communicate successfully with each other in a wide variety of contexts. Understanding what knowledge, belief structures, and computational capabilities undergird successful cooperation and communication among humans is a problem of fundamental scientific importance in human cognition, and is a crucial stepping stone to designing intelligent artificial systems that can interact effectively with us. In this seminar we will read and discuss a range of foundational and cutting-edge literature on this topic, drawing from diverse fields including psychology, linguistics, artificial intelligence, evolutionary theory, and economics. Special attention will be given to pragmatics, which lies at the intersection of cooperation and communication and has seen particularly rich growth in computational models and experimental methods over the past several years.

4 Course organization

We'll meet once a week and discuss a mixture of foundational, landmark, and bleeding-edge papers in this interdisciplinary field. Seminar participants will take turns leading discussion of readings.

We will finalize scheduling of this course at the end of week 1, based on availability of interested parties. Please indicate your availability at – thank you!

5 Intended Audience

Graduate students and highly motivated, well-prepared undergraduates in brain & cognitive sciences, linguistics, artificial intelligence, and any of a number of related disciplines. Postdocs and faculty are also welcome (though I won't let you out of the requirement that you lead discussion of some readings).

There are no formal prerequisites for this seminar. A number of the papers we will be reading have considerable technical depth, and we will delve into the details. So be ready to do some math (mostly high-school algebra plus basic probability theory). Having enough programming experience to implement some of the models we discuss will be an advantage. The programming involved will not be technically complex and any high-level language (Python, Matlab, R, …) would be suitable.

6 Syllabus (subject to modification)

Week Day Topic Key Readings Presenter Homework Related Readings
Week 1 Thurs 8 Sep Informal discussion of a game-theory classic Schelling, 1960, chapters 4-6   HW1, due 15 Sep (ungraded); HW1 solution  
Week 2 Thurs 15 Sep Recent survey articles Rand & Nowak, 2013; Goodman & Frank, in press Roger (handout)   Steels, 2003
Week 3 Tues 20 Sep Foundations: philosophy Bratman, 1992 Maddie (handout)    
Week 4 Thurs 29 Sep Foundations: evolutionary biology and political science Axelrod, 1986 Dae (handout) HW2, due 13 Oct (graded!); HW2 solution Ostrom, 2000
Week 5 Thurs 6 Oct Foundations: language and pragmatics Grice, 1975 Luke (handout)    
Week 6 Thurs 13 Oct; Grounding in Communication Clark & Brennan, 1991 Manushaqe (handout)   Garrod & Anderson, 1987, Garrod & Doherty, 1984
Week 7 Tues 18 Oct Comparative biology and evolution of human cooperation Tomasello et al., 2012 Tobi (handout)    
Week 8 Thurs 27 Oct Towards Flexible Teamwork Tambe, 1997 Vaibhav (handout; (slides)    
Week 9 Thurs 3 Nov Indirect speech acts Pinker et al., 2008 Meilin (handout) HW3, due 10 Nov (graded!)  
Week 10 Thurs 10 Nov Communicating with instantaneous conventions Misyak et al., 2016 Kelsey   Misyak et al., 2014; Rohde et al., 2012
Week 11 Thurs 17 Nov Signaling trustworthiness Jordan et al., 2016 Sarah   Hoffman et al., 2015
Week 12 Tues 22 Nov Costly Punishment Henrich et al., 2006 Edmond   Jordan et al., 2016
Week 13 Thurs 1 Dec Pragmatic development and language understanding Hochstein et al., 2016 Laine & Athulya    
Week 14 Thurs 8 Dec Non-literal language Kao et al., 2014 (PNAS) Brittney (handout)   Yoon et al., 2016; Kao et al., 2014 (CogSci Proceedings)
Week 15 Tues 13 Dec Learning language games through interaction Wang et al, 2016 Mika   Barlier et al., 2015
  Wed 14 Dec Final paper due        

7 Requirements & grading

The requirements for participation in this seminar are that:

  • You show up
  • You participate in discussion
  • You lead discussion of one or more papers at some point during the quarter, which involves preparing a handout and using it to:
    • summarize the main points of the paper;
    • walk us through any models and/or experiments;
    • lead critical discussion of the paper.

    You should go over the handout with me at least two days before the day of your class.

  • If you are taking the course for credit, you must:
    • complete periodic small homework assignments that I will give at various points throughout the quarter;
    • write a final paper in the form of a research proposal on some topic in this course.

8 Mailing list

There will be a mailing list for this course, which you can access at Please make sure you're signed up for it! This list is both for discussion of ideas in the class and for communications about organizational issues.

Author: Roger Levy

Created: 2016-12-08 Thu 10:08

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