Professor Cristiano Castelfranchi
Castelfranchi, Ph.D. (Hons) is
Full Professor of General Psychology, University of Siena;
Director, Institute for Cognitive Sciences and Technologies (ISTC-CNR);
Full Professor of Economical Psychology, LUISS University Rome; and
Full Professor of Social Psychology, Uninettuno International Telematic
Cristiano started collaborating with the Institute of Psychology of the National Research Council (IPCNR, now ISTC-CNR) during the final years of his undergraduate degree, and he became a permanent researcher there in 1971. In those early years his interests were divided between two main topics: the pragmatics and semantics of natural language (with D. Parisi), with an emphasis on generative linguistics and how explicit representations of mental states (goals and beliefs) determine language understanding, and the analysis and prevention of mental disease with non-constrictive methods (with F. Basaglia and R. Misiti), which was instrumental to the legal reform of the national psychiatric system in Italy in 1978.
His theoretical approach was focused since the onset on defining an operational notion of goal, partially inspired by progresses in cybernetics and control theory, in sharp contrast with the more vague and affective notion of “motivation”, traditionally employed in cognitive and social psychology at that time. Defining goals as anticipatory representations of world-states capable of guiding the agent’s behavior proved extremely helpful in understanding language, and it became soon clear to him that this notion was equally crucial in understanding social phenomena in general, as well as in elucidating the cognitive structure of complex emotions.
This led Cristiano to initiate major research programmes in the study of social norms (with R. Conte), trust (with R. Falcone), and emotions (with M. Miceli and I. Poggi), which resulted in significant breakthroughs in each of these areas. In parallel, the emphasis on operational, theory-driven conceptual notions, as opposed to the traditional ill-defined, data-driven constructs of psychology, fuelled Cristiano’s exchanges and collaborations with people working in computer science, including some of the founding figures of modern AI (such as T. Winograd and R. Shank at Stanford in the early ’70s). In particular, in the ’80s Cristiano worked intensively on computational linguistics (with O. Stock and D. Parisi), and later on became one of the key figures in the creation and consolidation of the multi-agent systems approach to Distributed Artificial Intelligence.
Cristiano’s interest in the autonomous agents paradigm and in the use of agent-based simulation to analyze social phenomena was motivated by the strengths and weaknesses he perceived in that seminal area: agent-based models naturally stressed the autonomous and cognitive nature of the agent’s architecture, using notions that were at the same time clearly defined and operational, but also naive and not enough informed by psychological and social science.
He clearly saw the need to provide a robust theoretical foundation for some key notions in multiagent systems (such as power, dependence, norms, and commitments), thus playing a unique role in shaping since the onset this now thriving research community. At the same time, he clearly recognized the potential relevance of this methodology for the understanding of human cognition and society: in a series of influential research projects and papers, he systematically investigated the cognitive mediators of social phenomena, using the agent-based approach as a conceptual tool (a theory rather than a technology) to analyze society as emerging from the interaction of cognitive agents, and cognition as being shaped by social interaction — a framework that later gained relevance not only in computer science, but also in social psychology, economics, and philosophy.
All these different and complementary research approaches came to full fruition in the last decade of his scientific activity: the role of society in shaping cognitive processes and the centrality of action-control became mainstream in cognitive science and neuropsychology, vindicating Cristiano’s idea (which he championed since the ’70s) that cognition is essentially for action, rather than the mere information-processing assumed by traditional approaches. This gave him a central role, over the last decade, in studying some essential features of what are nowadays known as cognitive systems, especially on anticipatory mechanisms, goal-oriented action-control, and autonomous behavior.
He coauthored Trust Theory: A Socio-Cognitive and Computational Model and Cognitive And Social Action, and coedited Intelligent Agents VII. Agent Theories Architectures and Languages: 7th International Workshop, ATAL 2000, Boston, MA, USA, The Challenge of Anticipation: A Unifying Framework for the Analysis and Design of Artificial Cognitive Systems, Trust and Deception in Virtual Societies, Agent Autonomy (Multiagent Systems, Artificial Societies, and Simulated Organizations), and From Reaction to Cognition: 5th European Workshop on Modelling Autonomous Agents in a Multi-Agent World, MAAMAW ‘93, Neuchatel, Switzerland. Read the full list of his publications!
Cristiano earned his M.A. in Humanities with honors from the University of Roma in 1969. He received his Ph.D. honoris causa in Cognitive Science at the University of Turin in 2007.
Watch ICAART 2011 — Keynote Speaker Cristiano Castelfranchi.