Professor Nicholas Shea

Contact details

Professor Nicholas Shea
B.A.; Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Institute of Philosophy
Institute of Philosophy, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
020 7862 8824
Email address:

Research Summary and Profile

Research interests:
Summary of research interests and expertise:

Research interests: 

  • Philosophy of psychology 
  • Philosophy of cognitive science
  • Philosophy of mind
  • Theories of representational content
  • Decision-making
  • Inheritance systems
  • Cognitive science
  • Cognitive neuroscience



Publication Details

Publications available on SAS-space:

Date Details
Jun-2017 Learning Rapidly about the Relevance of Visual Cues Requires Conscious Awareness


Humans have been shown capable of performing many cognitive tasks using information of which they are not consciously aware. This raises questions about what role consciousness actually plays in cognition. Here, we explored whether participants can learn cue-target contingencies in an attentional learning task when the cues were presented below the level of conscious awareness, and how this differs from learning about conscious cues. Participants’ manual (Experiment 1) and saccadic (Experiment 2) response speeds were influenced by both conscious and unconscious cues. However, participants were only able to adapt to reversals of the cue-target contingencies (Experiment 1) or changes in the reliability of the cues (Experiment 2) when consciously aware of the cues. Therefore, although visual cues can be processed unconsciously, learning about cues over a few trials requires conscious awareness of them. Finally, we discuss implications for cognitive theories of consciousness.

Jun-2017 Content in Simple Signalling Systems


Our understanding of communication and its evolution has advanced significantly through the study of simple models involving interacting senders and receivers of signals. Many theorists have thought that the resources of mathematical information theory are all that are needed to capture the meaning or content that is being communicated in these systems. However, the way theorists routinely talk about the models implicitly draws on a conception of content that is richer than bare informational content, especially in contexts where false content is important. This article shows that this concept can be made precise by defining a notion of functional content that captures the degree to which different states of the world are involved in stabilizing senders’ and receivers’ use of a signal at equilibrium. A series of case studies is used to contrast functional content with informational content, and to illustrate the explanatory role and limitations of this definition of functional content.

Mar-2018 Metacognition and Abstract Concepts


The problem of how concepts can refer to or be about the non‐mental world is particularly puzzling for abstract concepts. There is growing evidence that many characteristics beyond the perceptual are involved in grounding different kinds of abstract concept. A resource that has been suggested, but little explored, is introspection. This paper develops that suggestion by focusing specifically on metacognition—on the thoughts and feelings that thinkers have about a concept. One example of metacognition about concepts is the judgement that we should defer to others in how a given concept is used. Another example is our internal assessment of which concepts are dependable and useful, and which less so. Metacognition of this kind may be especially important for grounding abstract concepts.

Additional Publications

Research Projects & Supervisions

Research projects:

Metacognition of concepts

Consultancy & Media
Available for consultancy:
Media experience:
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