Species20of20 Conversation20 Many20 Minds20 Podcast
Jun 7, 2023

Species of Conversation with with Federico Rossano (podcast)

What can examining social interaction across species tell us about what it means to be human? Or to be a dog, or an ape?

By Templeton Staff

Throughout his career, Dr. Federico Rossano, has studied social interaction from a number of different angles, in a range of different settings, and across different species — including humans, bonobos, orangutans, and most recently dogs. 

Many Minds podcast host, cognitive scientist, and writer Kensy Cooperrider introduces the episode:

"We humans are social animals — and that takes work. As we move through the world, we have to navigate around other people’s desires, needs, and beliefs. Much of this work happens in conversation — through our words, our glances, our gestures. It happens in countless different situations, according to different norms and systems. Human social interaction is, in short, a multi-layered, delicate dance. But it’s also not the only kind of social interaction out there. Apes, dogs, and other social species also have to negotiate with others and sometimes with humans. There’s not just one species of conversation, in other words — there are many. 

Today Dr. Federico Rossano, Associate Professor of Cognitive Science and Director of the Comparative Cognition Lab at the University of California, San Diego, and I discuss the field of conversation analysis and how Federico got started in it. We talk about his early work on how people use gaze in conversation, and how the use of gaze differs across cultures. We discuss how Federico ported some of the tools of conversation analysis over to study social interaction in apes. We also talk about his new line of research on how dogs use soundboards to communicate with their human caretakers. This work has been attracting a lot of buzz and also a bit of pushback, so we dig into the controversy. Along the way, we touch on: Umberto Eco; platypuses; how much work it takes to simply come across as ordinary; the concept of the human interaction engine; the Clever Hans effect; the impossible task; and why many scientists are so skittish about animal language research."

Play the full episode with the above player.

Learn more about Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences priority.


Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences is a multiyear, global effort to understand a world alive with brilliance in many forms. Its mission is to promote open-minded, forward-looking inquiry in animal, human, and machine intelligences. We collaborate with leading experts and emerging scholars from around the globe, developing high-caliber projects that advance our comprehension of the constellation of intelligences.

Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI), made possible through a grant from TWCF to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The Many Minds podcast is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from assistant producer Cecilia Padilla. Creative support is provided by DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Artwork featured as the podcast badge is by Ben Oldroyd.