I am a psychologist with main interests in how individual minds relate to their social, cultural and ecological environments. The principal direction from which I address these issues is informed by evolutionary thinking, cognitive science and social psychology.
This work is part of a new metatheoretic field labelled "cognition and culture", which aims to integrate the insights of areas including cognitive science, philosophy, communication, anthropology and social psychology, under the umbrella of evolutionary thinking. Such ambitious work must be highly collaborative, and the ideas continue to be developed with successive generations of talented and enthusiastic PhD students as well as academic colleagues (see http://www.lse.ac.uk/anthropology/research/PCC/ ) .
In my interests and location, my academic career has come full circle. My first degree was in Social Psychology from LSE. Fascinating in offering in-depth descriptions of social phenomena, though the theories had often not kept pace with developments in cognitive scientific understanding of the mind. My final year dissertation attempted, in a very small way, to integrate ideas from cognitive science and social representations. Moving on to the University of Edinburgh to study Cognitive Science at Masters' level enabled a whole range of interdisciplinary interests to blossom. Whilst an integrated explanation of how the mind works (employing, e.g., cognitive psychology, linguistics, philosophy, neuropsychology, logic, and computation) would be more complicated than had been thought in the past, it may nonetheless be an achievable proposition.
My Masters' thesis attempted to relate some ideas of Kant and Piaget to the emerging field of cognitive science. I stayed in Edinburgh to complete a PhD thesis on understanding how people represent knowledge of categories of things ("concepts"), and how that representation connects to knowledge and use of language. The core idea was that concepts hold quite limited content which, with appropriate pragmatic processing mechanisms, delivers highly flexible, context-dependent representations of meaning.
Returning to LSE as a member of staff, recent developments reflect a growing interest in evolutionary explanations of mind and social relations. Despite wide agreement that evolutionary adaptations provide structure and directions for the content of thought and culture, it is not yet clear precisely what form this takes. Most recently I have become interested in developing an evolved, "embodied" approach to cognition and culture.
My recurrent research interests are in the connections between mind and culture.
The first relates to issues arising from developing a theoretical approach to the relations between mind and culture that is grounded in evolution. Central to this is how to reconcile the apparently opposing claims of social construction and evolution in the creation of mind, without denying the force of either claim, and in a way that is open to empirical assessment. The principal means of doing so has been to consider the twin roles of "embodiment" in mind in which mind is simultaneously intertwined with "internal" bodily states (such as perception, emotion, and motivation), and "external" aspects of the ecological and cultural environment. Minds are culturally constructed: evolved to be scaffolded by the social and ecological environment or niche, which it both depends on for physical, social and cultural affordances, as well as transforming it through individual and joint action.
The second uses this theoretical understanding to develop empirical investigations into specific areas of social and cognitive psychology. Concerning the content and implications of people’s social beliefs, I have been looking at three areas. One revolves around agency. Individual (‘I’) and joint (‘we’) agency have different roles in individual and social life and connect in important ways to culture and evolution. One strand (in collaboration with Martin W. Bauer) concerns tapping into how subjective experiences of different forms of agency fluctuate across time, place and actions – for example, using experience sampling techniques on mobile technology. A second (in collaboration with Ben Voyer) concerns how recurrent experiences of agency have implications for a person’s self-construal (the way they understand who they are relative to their social groups) – for example, after carrying out joint or co-ordinated actions of different kinds (e.g., consumer choices, economic games, physical actions). A third strand concerns the impact of language on the experience and assessment of agency – for example, in making available different lexical choices to express forms of joint and collective agency. Another broad area of interest relates to the possible roles of essentialism in representations of natural and social categories, and how they interact with culture and language to handle borderline cases of category membership. Culture and embodied states have an important role in characterising what is uncertain, and how such uncertainty is resolved. This has implications for how people understand social categories such as gender and race, as well as for how people share the beliefs and other cultural produces of groups of which they are borderline members.
A third concerns religious beliefs and rituals, where one of the effects of embodied aspects of ritual seems to be to temporarily reduce uncertainty in religious beliefs. A current interest relates to whether this effect extends beyond descriptive beliefs about the properties of gods, souls, etc, to include normative beliefs about the right ways to behave. This has implications for ideas concerning "radicalization" and the cultural spread of extreme religious ideas.
Concerning the patterns and cultural transmission of social beliefs, there are two areas of particular interest. Commonsense and neuroscience. One (in collaboration with Chris Tennant) concerns how the evolved foundations and cultural constructions of beliefs have an impact on the ways commonsense and the media represent the findings and explanations offered by neuroscience. In a field where we are both the subject and object of thought, and where there are important social and political consequences at stake, understanding these impacts is particularly important.Conspiracy theories. A second (in collaboration with Adrian Bangerter and Martin W. Bauer) concerns how people use conspiracy theories to understand and explain threatening or otherwise anxiety-provoking situations. Conspiracy theories are often said to connect to cynicism and political disengagement, so understanding how and why they form and spread, has important implications for civil society. We have developed a view that suggests parallels between conspiracy theories and religious beliefs, and are using this to understand a variety of theories currently in circulation.
The third relates to specific ways of applying these approaches in order to support social change. Children’s water drinking habits. One area that I have been working on concerns how to support children in developing healthier dietary habits. In collaboration with Saadi Lahlou and Sabine Boesen-Mariani, I have been engaged in longitudinal field research to investigate the ways in which the family setting can act as a supportive niche for children to acquire sustainable habits of healthy water drinking. Teenage driving safety. Another area which is in development (with Chris Tennant, LSE) is to consider the ways in which safer car driving can be encouraged in young drivers as a result of specific interventions based on these theoretical ideas.
LSE's emphasis on research-led teaching allows us to teach on topics in which we are actively researching. Our students are lively, critical and intelligent, making seminars enjoyable and interesting and challenging for teachers as well as students, and a place where new ideas can be explored in depth – so that we also have teaching-driven research.
I am the co-Director of the MSc in Social and Public Communication and also oversee the core course for that programme, the Social Psychology of Communication (PS429). Also at the graduate level, I organize Cognition and Culture (PS451), as well making teaching contributions to Contemporary Social and Cultural Psychology (PS400), Societal Psychology (PS443), and The Social Psychology of Health Communication (PS418). At the undergraduate level, I contribute to Self, Others and Society: Perspectives on Social and Applied Psychology (PS102).
PhD supervision is one of the major challenges and pleasures of being at the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science (DPBS) Department. The topics on which I have supervised or currently supervise include evolution and essentialism in representations of social categories (e.g., gender and race) and status and hierarchies, power and the self, religious beliefs and counter-intuitiveness, the cultural transmission of extreme religious beliefs, contradictory beliefs concerning animals, the role of metaphor in cultural transmission.
I am also the Chief Examiner for the course, Elements of Social and Applied Psychology (MN2079), which is part of the undergraduate degree offered by the University of London International Programmes in Economics, Management, Finance and the Social Sciences (EMFSS). Connected to this role, I am the co-author of:
Stockdale, J. E., Franks, B. & C. M. Provencher (2013). Elements of Social and Applied Psychology. Subject Guide for the University of London International Programmes. London: University of London Press.
Dhesi, J., & Franks, B. (2015). Are humans evolved to stereotype?
Franks, B. (2015). How social is the evolved mind, and how could we know?
Franks, B., S. Lahlou & S. Boesen-Mariani (2015). Changing Children’s Water Drinking: a Longitudinal Field Experiment Assessing the Impact of Information, Affordances and Community
Franks, B., & Tennant, C. (2015). Representations of neuroscience in commonsense and mass media: Evolution, dualism and essentialism.
Lahlou, S., Boesen-Mariani, S., & Franks, B. (2015/forthcoming). Increasing Water Intake of Children and Parents in the Family Setting: a Randomized Controlled Intervention Using Installation Theory. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism.
Franks, B. (2014). The roles of evolution in the social sciences: Is biology ballistic?
Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. 44 (3). doi: 10.1111/jtsb.12043.
Franks, B. (2014). Social construction, evolution and cultural universals. Culture and Psychology. 20(3), 416–439.
Voyer, B., & Franks, B. (2014). Self-construal: an Agency perspective. Review of General Psychology, 18(2), 101-114.
Franks, B., A. Bangerter, & M. Bauer, M. (2013). Conspiracy theories as quasi-religious mentality: An integrated account from cognitive science, social representations theory and frame theory. Frontiers in Psychology: Personality Science and Individual Differences, 4:424. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00424.
Franks, B. (2011). Culture, Cognition and Evolution. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Franks, B. & Dhesi, J. (2011). Evolution and cultural transmission: the Role of Embodied Mind. In Hook, D.W., Franks, B. & Bauer, M. B. (Eds.), The Social Psychology of Communication. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hook, D., Franks, B., & Bauer, M.W. (Eds.) (2011). The Social Psychology of Communication. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Franks, B., & Attia, S. (2011). Rumour, gossip and cultural transmission. In Hook, D.W.,
Franks, B. & Bauer, M. B. (Eds.), The Social Psychology of Communication. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Franks, B. & Green, H. A. (2011). Culture, communication and pragmatics. In Hook, D.W., Franks, B. & Bauer, M. B. (Eds.), The Social Psychology of Communication. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Franks, B., & Rigby, K. (2006). Deception and mate selection: Some implications for relevance and the evolution of language. Chapter 10 in Tallerman, M. (Ed.), Language Origins. Oxford: OUP.
Franks, B. (2005). The role of the environment in evolutionary and cognitive psychology. Philosophical Psychology, 18(1), 59—82.
Franks, B. (2004). Negation and doubt in religious representations: Context-dependence, emotion and action. Evolution and Cognition, 10 (1), 74—86.
Franks, B. (2003). The nature of unnaturalness in religious representations: Negation and concept combination. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 3, 41—68.
Franks, B. (1999). Idealizations, competence and explanation: a response to Patterson. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 50 (4), 735—746.
Franks, B., & Braisby, N. (1997). Concepts in action: the evolutionary role of concepts and similarity. In Ramscar, M., Hahn, U., Cambouropolos, E., & Pain, H. (Eds.), Proceedings of SimCat 97: Interdisciplinary Workshop on Similarity and Categorisation, Edinburgh. pps. 91-98.
Braisby, N. R., Franks, B., & Harris, J. (1997). Classification and concepts: Fuzzy or perspectival?. Chapter 9 in D. Dubois (Ed.). Papers from CaReSSes. Paris: Editions Kime.
Braisby, N. R., Franks, B., & Hampton, J. A. (1997). Essential Contradictions: Psychological essentialism and concepts. Chapter 12 in D. Dubois (Ed.). Papers from CaReSSes. Paris: Editions Kime.
Braisby, N. R., & Franks, B. (1997). What does word use tell us about conceptual content? Psychology of Language and Communication, 1 (2), 1-12
Cooper, R., & Franks, B. (1996). The iteration of concept combination in sense generation. In Proceedings of the Cognitive Science Society.
Braisby, N. R., Franks, B., & Hampton, J. A. (1996). Essentialism, word use, and concepts. Cognition, 59, 247-274.
Franks, B. (1995). Sense Generation: a 'quasi-classical' approach to concepts and concept combination. Cognitive Science, 19 (4), 441-506.
Outside academia, I have a range of interests. I am very fond of poetry and fiction, music (I would form a Poor Cellists Club if anyone else could bear to be in the same room when I play), and good wine. I am a keen fan of football (Liverpool FC) and cricket.
I also enjoy walking in the country. I would form a Poor Attenders of the Gym Club if I went more often. My wife and son also do their best to ensure that I remain reasonably grounded in the non-academic world. My favourite colour is green, though I am colour-blind.