Anthropology and the other cognitive science (CS) subdisciplines currently maintain a troubled relationship. With a debate in topiCS we aim at exploring the prospects for improving this relationship, and our introduction is intended as a catalyst for this debate. In order to encourage a frank sharing of perspectives, our comments will be deliberately provocative. Several challenges for a successful rapprochement are identified, encompassing the diverging paths that CS and anthropology have taken in the past, the degree of compatibility between (1) (...) CS and (2) anthropology with regard to methodology and (3) research strategies, (4) the importance of anthropology for CS, and (5) the need for disciplinary diversity. Given this set of challenges, a reconciliation seems unlikely to follow on the heels of good intentions alone. (shrink)
This paper reviews the uneven history of the relationship between Anthropology and Cognitive Science over the past 30 years, from its promising beginnings, followed by a period of disaffection, on up to the current context, which may lay the groundwork for reconsidering what Anthropology and (the rest of) Cognitive Science have to offer each other. We think that this history has important lessons to teach and has implications for contemporary efforts to restore Anthropology to its proper place within Cognitive Science. (...) The recent upsurge of interest in the ways that thought may shape and be shaped by action, gesture, cultural experience, and language sets the stage for, but so far has not fully accomplished, the inclusion of Anthropology as an equal partner. (shrink)
. This paper describes a cross-cultural and developmental research project on naïve or folk biology, that is, the study of how people conceptualize nature. The combination of domain specificity and cross-cultural comparison brings a new perspective to theories of categorization and reasoning and undermines the tendency to focus on “standard populations.” From the standpoint of mainstream cognitive psychology, we find that results gathered from standard populations in industrialized societies often fail to generalize to humanity at large. For example, similarity-driven typicality (...) and diversity effects and basic level phenomena either are not found or pattern differently when we move beyond undergraduates. From the perspective of domain-specificity, standard populations may yield misleading results, because such populations represent examples of especially impoverished experience with respect to nature. Conceptions of humans as biological kinds vary with cultural milieu and input conditions. We also show certain phenomena that are robust across populations, consistent with notions of domain-specificity. (shrink)
For much of their history, the relationship between anthropology and psychology has been well captured by Robert Frost's poem, “Mending Wall,” which ends with the ironic line, “good fences make good neighbors.” The congenial fence was that anthropology studied what people think and psychology studied how people think. Recent research, however, shows that content and process cannot be neatly segregated, because cultural differences in what people think affect how people think. To achieve a deeper understanding of the relation between process (...) and content, research must integrate the methodological insights from both anthropology and psychology. We review previous research and describe new studies in the domain of folk biology which examine the cognitive consequences of different conceptualizations of nature and the place of humans within it. The focus is on cultural differences in framework theories among Native Americans and European American children and adults living in close proximity in rural Wisconsin. Our results show that epistemological orientations affect memory organization, ecological reasoning, and the perceived role of humans in nature. This research also demonstrates that cultural differences in framework theories have implications for understanding intergroup conflict over natural resources and are relevant to efforts to improve science learning, especially among Native American children. (shrink)
Carey's book on conceptual change and the accompanying argument that children's biology initially is organized in terms of naïve psychology has sparked a great detail of research and debate. This body of research on children's biology has, however, been almost exclusively been based on urban, majority culture children in the US or in other industrialized nations. The development of folkbiological knowledge may depend on cultural and experiential background. If this is the case, then urban majority culture children may prove to (...) be the exception rather than the rule, because plants and animals do not play a significant role in their everyday life. Urban majority culture children, rural majority culture children, and rural Native American children were given a property projection task based on Carey's original paradigm. Each group produced a unique profile of development. Only urban children showed evidence for early anthropocentrism, suggesting that the co-mingling of psychology and biology may be a product of an impoverished experience with nature. In comparison to urban majority culture children even the youngest rural children generalized in terms of biological affinity. In addition, all ages of Native American children and the older rural majority culture children gave clear evidence of ecological reasoning. These results show that both culture and expertise play a role in the development of folkbiological thought. (shrink)
Many psychological studies of categorization and reasoning use undergraduates to make claims about human conceptualization. Generalizability of findings to other populations is often assumed but rarely tested. Even when comparative studies are conducted, it may be challenging to interpret differences. As a partial remedy, in the present studies we adopt a 'triangulation strategy' to evaluate the ways expertise and culturally different belief systems can lead to different ways of conceptualizing the biological world. We use three groups (US bird experts, US (...) undergraduates, and ordinary Itza' Maya) and two sets of birds (North American and Central American). Categorization tasks show considerable similarity among the three groups' taxonomic sorts, but also systematic differences. Notably, US expert categorization is more similar to Itza' than to US novice categorization. The differences are magnified on inductive reasoning tasks where only undergraduates show patterns of judgment that are largely consistent with current models of category-based taxonomic inference. The Maya commonly employ causal and ecological reasoning rather than taxonomic reasoning. Experts use a mixture of strategies (including causal and ecological reasoning), only some of which current models explain. US and Itza' informants differed markedly when reasoning about passerines (songbirds), reflecting the somewhat different role that songbirds play in the two cultures. The results call into question the importance of similarity-based notions of typicality and central tendency in natural categorization and reasoning. These findings also show that relative expertise leads to a convergence of thought that transcends cultural boundaries and shared experiences. (shrink)
This paper describes a cross-cultural research project on the relation between how people conceptualize nature and how they act in it. Mental models of nature differ dramatically among and within populations living in the same area and engaged in more or less the same activities. This has novel implications for environmental decision making and management, including dealing with commons problems. Our research also offers a distinct perspective on models of culture, and a unified approach to the study of culture and (...) cognition. We argue that cultural transmission and formation does not consist primarily in shared rules or norms, but in complex distributions of causally-connected representations across minds in interaction with the environment. The cultural stability and diversity of these representations often derives from rich, biologically-prepared mental mechanisms that limit variation to readily transmissible psychological forms. This framework addresses a series of methodological issues, such as the limitations of conceiving culture to be a well-defined system or bounded entity, an independent variable, or an internalized component of minds. (shrink)
Do cultural models facilitate particular ways of perceiving interactions in nature? We explore variability in folkecological principles of reasoning about interspecies interactions. In two studies, Indigenous Panamanian Ngöbe and U.S. participants interpreted an illustrated, wordless nonfiction book about the hunting relationship between a coyote and badger. Across both studies, the majority of Ngöbe interpreted the hunting relationship as cooperative and the majority of U.S. participants as competitive. Study 2 showed that this pattern may reflect different beliefs about, and perhaps different (...) awareness of, plausible interspecies interactions. Further probes suggest that these models of ecological interaction correlate with recognition of social agency in nonhuman animals. We interpret our results in terms of cultural models of nature and nonhuman agency. (shrink)
We report a series of experiments carried out with Palestinian and Israeli participants showing that violent opposition to compromise over issues considered sacred is increased by offering material incentives to compromise but decreased when the adversary makes symbolic compromises over their own sacred values. These results demonstrate some of the unique properties of reasoning and decision-making over sacred values. We show that the use of material incentives to promote the peaceful resolution of political and cultural conflicts may backfire when adversaries (...) treat contested issues as sacred values. (shrink)
This conclusion of the debate on anthropology’s role in cognitive science provides some clarifications and an overview of emergent themes. It also lists, as cases of good practice, some examples of productive cross-disciplinary collaboration that evince a forward momentum in the relationship between anthropology and the other cognitive sciences.
This essay explores the universal cognitive bases of biological taxonomy and taxonomic inference using cross-cultural experimental work with urbanized Americans and forest-dwelling Maya Indians. A universal, essentialist appreciation of generic species appears as the causal foundation for the taxonomic arrangement of biodiversity, and for inference about the distribution of causally-related properties that underlie biodiversity. Universal folkbiological taxonomy is domain-specific: its structure does not spontaneously or invariably arise in other cognitive domains, like substances, artifacts or persons. It is plausibly an innately-determined (...) evolutionary adaptation to relevant and recurrent aspects of ancestral hominid environments, such as the need to recognize, locate, react to, and profit from many ambient species. Folkbiological concepts are special players in cultural evolution, whose native stability attaches to more variable and difficult-to-learn representational forms, thus enhancing the latter's prospects for regularity and recurrence in transmission within and across cultures. This includes knowledge that cumulatively enriches (folk expertise), overrides (religious belief) or otherwise transcends (science) the commonsense ontology prescribed by folkbiology. Finally, the studies summarized here indicate that results gathered from “standard populations” in regard to biological categorization and reasoning more often than not fail to generalize in straightforward ways to humanity at large. This suggests the need for much more serious attention to cross-cultural research on basic cognitive processes. (shrink)
Sacred values are different from secular values in that they are often associated with violations of the cost-benefit logic of rational choice models. Previous work on sacred values has been largely limited to religious or territorial conflicts deeply embedded in historical contexts. In this work we find that the Iranian nuclear program, a relatively recent development, is treated as sacred by some Iranians, leading to a greater disapproval of deals which involve monetary incentives to end the program. Our results suggest (...) that depending on the prevalence of such values, incentive-focused negotiations may backfire. (shrink)
Anthropological inquiry suggests that all societies classify animals and plants in similar ways. Paradoxically, in the same cultures that have seen large advances in biological science, citizenry's practical knowledge of nature has dramatically diminished. Here we describe historical, cross-cultural and developmental research on how people ordinarily conceptualize organic nature, concentrating on cognitive consequences associated with knowledge devolution. We show that results on psychological studies of categorization and reasoning from “standard populations” fail to generalize to humanity at large. Usual populations have (...) impoverished experience with nature, which yields misleading results about knowledge acquisition and the ontogenetic relationship between folkbiology and folkpsychology. We also show that groups living in the same habitat can manifest strikingly distinct behaviors, cognitions and social relations relative to it. This has novel implications for environmental decision making and management, including commons problems. (shrink)
We explored the relationship between qualities of victims in hypothetical scenarios and the appearance of framing effects. In past studies, participantsâ feelings about the victims have been demonstrated to affect whether framing effects appear, but this relationship has not been directly examined. In the present study, we examined the relationship between caring about the people at risk, the perceived interdependence of the people at risk, and frame. Scenarios were presented that differed in the degree to which participants could be expected (...) to care about the group and the extent to which the group could be construed as interdependent. A framing effect was found only for the scenario describing the victims as the participantsâ friends who did not know each other (high caring/low interdependence), and this went in the opposite direction from typical framing effects. Finally, perceived interdependence and caring affected choice both within and across scenarios, with more risky choices made by participants with high interdependence ratings and high caring ratings. (shrink)
Although mutually advantageous cooperative strategies might be an apt account of some societies, other moral systems might be needed among certain groups and contexts. In particular, in a duty-based moral system, people do not behave morally with an expectation for proportional reward, but rather, as a fulfillment of debt owed to others. In such systems, mutualistic motivations are not necessarily a key component of morality.
Henrich et al.'s critical review demonstrating that psychology research is over-reliant on WEIRD samples is an important contribution to the field. Their stronger claim that is less convincing, however. We argue that WEIRD people's apparent distinct weirdness is a methodological side-effect of psychology's over-reliance on WEIRD populations for developing its methods and theoretical constructs.