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Bertram F. Malle

Bertram Malle is Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Cognitive and Decision Sciences at the University of Oregon. He is the editor of Intentions and Intentionality: Foundations of Social Cognition (MIT Press, 2001).

Titles by This Author

Folk Explanations, Meaning, and Social Interaction

In this provocative monograph, Bertram Malle describes behavior explanations as having a dual nature—as being both cognitive and social acts—and proposes a comprehensive theoretical model that integrates the two aspects. When people try to understand puzzling human behavior, they construct behavior explanations, which are a fundamental tool of social cognition. But, Malle argues, behavior explanations exist not only in the mind; they are also overt verbal actions used for social purposes. When people explain their own behavior or the behavior of others, they are using the explanation to manage a social interaction—by offering clarification, trying to save face, or casting blame. Malle's account makes clear why these two aspects of behavior explanation exist and why they are closely linked; along the way, he illustrates the astonishingly sophisticated and subtle patterns of folk behavior explanations.

Malle begins by reviewing traditional attribution theories and their simplified portrayal of behavior explanation. A more realistic portrayal, he argues, must be grounded in the nature, function, and origins of the folk theory of mind—the conceptual framework underlying people's grasp of human behavior and its connection to the mind. Malle then presents a theory of behavior explanations, focusing first on their conceptual structure and then on their psychological construction. He applies this folk-conceptual theory to a number of questions, including the communicative functions of behavior explanations, and the differences in explanations given for self and others as well as for individuals and groups. Finally, he highlights the strengths of the folk-conceptual theory of explanation over traditional attribution theory and points to future research applications.

Titles by This Editor

Foundations of Social Cognition

Social interaction requires social cognition—the ability to perceive, interpret, and explain the actions of others. This ability fundamentally relies on the concepts of intention and intentionality. For example, people distinguish sharply between intentional and unintentional behavior; identify the intentions underlying others' behavior; explain completed actions with reference to intentions, beliefs, and desires; and evaluate the social worth of actions using the concepts of intentionality and responsibility.

Intentions and Intentionality highlights the roles these concepts play in social cognition. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, it offers cutting-edge work from researchers in cognitive, developmental, and social psychology and in philosophy, primatology, and law. It includes both conceptual and empirical contributions.