Institut Jean Nicod

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Hugo Mercier’s research has focused on two overlapping themes : reasoning, and epistemic vigilance. With Dan Sperber, he has developed a novel and influential theory of human reason. This interactionist theory of reason claims that human reason evolved by serving social ends, in particular justification and argumentation. Mercier and his colleagues have tested, using methods of experimental psychology, this theory’s predictions in a variety of populations, from two-year-old children to indigenous Maya. Epistemic vigilance is the ability to evaluate communicated information as a function of its source and content. Mercier and his colleagues have conducted experiments to investigate the cognitive underpinnings of these mechanisms. Mercier has also reviewed the broader literature on influence and persuasion in history, anthropology, political science, etc., arguing that people are much more difficult to influence that is often believed.

Over the next years, Mercier will keep working on reasoning and epistemic vigilance. This research will be partly applied, aimed at better understanding and fighting the spread of damaging false beliefs—about vaccination or GMOs for instance. Using insights from psychology to better understand cultural phenomena, Mercier will also investigate the spread, persistence, and influence of epistemic institutions, from ordeals to science.