Zina B. Ward


Individual differences in cognitive science: conceptual, methodological, and ethical issues

My dissertation concerns inter-individual differences in cognitive science. By “individual differences,” I mean variation between human subjects that is stable over time and occurs within experimental conditions. I am interested in the ways in which individuals are consistently different from one another, where those differences are not intentionally induced. Individual differences in science have only sporadically been the focus of philosophical attention. For instance, individual variation has occasionally been discussed in philosophical work on scientific explanation (Tabery 2009), human nature (Samuels 2012), and natural kinds in psychology (Buckner 2016). In my view, however, inter-individual differences in cognitive science are deserving of more direct and sustained philosophical examination. This is because individual variation often poses a significant challenge to investigators seeking generalizations about the mind and brain; there has recently been a surge of interest in individual differences in a variety of disciplines within cognitive science; variability can sometimes serve as an inferential and explanatory tool; and the scientific investigation of individual differences has both great moral significance and a very ugly history.

The individual chapters of the dissertation address questions such as: In what contexts are individual differences an obstacle to scientific research, and in what contexts can they be a tool? How do neuroscientists reach general conclusions about brain structure and function in the face of significant variation in how people’s brains are organized? Can these practices be improved? Do hierarchical Bayesian models have the potential to integrate psychological generalizations with theorizing about individual differences, as their proponents claim? What ethical guidance can be given to cognitive scientists who encounter individual differences in their work?

Committee: Edouard Machery (chair), Jim Woodward, Mazviita Chirimuuta, Colin Allen, David Danks

Other projects

The many meanings of “values in science”: clarifying the argument from inductive risk

In this paper, I argue that proponents of the argument from inductive risk adopt a different conception of how values bear on scientific choices than critics. By making this conception explicit, we can clarify the argument from inductive risk and make it more acceptable to both proponents and opponents of value-freedom in science. Throughout the paper, I make use of an extended case study about the use of non-epistemic values in the preparation of Assessment Reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.