Experimental results in reference to Brazilian children and adults are presented in the context of current discussions about essentialism and folkbiology. Using an adoption paradigm, we replicate the basic findings of a previous article in this journal concerning the early emergence in children of a birth-parent bias (Atran et al. 2001). This cognitive bias supports the claim that causal essentialism cross-culturally constrains the reasoning about the origin, development and maintenance of the characteristics and identity of living kinds. We also report some intriguing differences with earlier findings that speak to theoretical and methodological issues of cultural relativity.
A cross-cultural approach to moral psychology starts from researchers withholding judgments about universal right and wrong and instead exploring what the members of a community subjectively perceive to be moral or immoral in their local context. This study seeks to identify the moral concerns that are most relevant to listeners of hip-hop music. We use validated psychological surveys including the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (Graham, Haidt, & Nosek 2009) to assess which moral concerns are most central to hip-hop listeners. Results show that hip-hop listeners prioritize concerns of justice and authenticity more than non-listeners and deprioritize concerns of respecting authority. These results suggest that the concept of the “good person” within hip-hop culture is fundamentally a person that is oriented towards social justice, rebellion against the status quo, and a deep devotion to keeping it real. Results are followed by a discussion of the role of youth subcultures in moral socialization.
Children's reasoning about biological concepts is influenced not only by their experiences in the natural world and in their classrooms, but also by the way that these concepts are named. In English, 'animal' can refer either to (a) exclusively non-human animals, or (b) all animate beings (human and non-human animals). In Indonesian, this category of animate beings has no dedicated name. Here, we ask whether this difference in naming has consequences for children's reasoning about humans and non-human animals. Results from English- and Indonesian-speaking children reveals differences in reasoning at age 6, differences that become attenuated by age 9. These results suggest that not only naming practices, but also biologically-relevant formal and informal learning experiences, influence children's reasoning about biological concepts.
Nearly all psychological research on basic cognitive processes of category formation and reasoning uses sample populations associated with large research institutions in technologically-advanced societies. Lopsided attention to a select participant pool risks biasing interpretation, no matter how large the sample or how statistically reliable the results. The experiments in this article address this limitation. Earlier research with urban-USA children suggests that biological concepts are (1) thoroughly enmeshed with their notions of naive psychology, and (2) strikingly human-centered. Thus, if children are to develop a causally appropriate model of biology, in which humans are seen as simply one animal among many, they must undergo fundamental conceptual change. Such change supposedly occurs between 7 and 10 years of age, when the human-centered view is discarded. The experiments reported here with Yukatek Maya speakers challenge the empirical generality and theoretical importance of these claims. Part 1 shows that young Maya children do not anthropocentrically interpret the biological world. The anthropocentric bias of American children appears to owe to a lack of cultural familiarity with non-human biological kinds, not to initial causal understanding of folkbiology as such. Part 2 shows that by age of 4-5 (the earliest age tested in this regard) Yukatek Maya children employ a concept of innate species potential or underlying essence much as urban American children seem to, namely, as an inferential framework for understanding the affiliation of an organism to a biological species, and for projecting known and unknown biological properties to organisms in the face of uncertainty. Together, these experiments indicate that folkpsychology cannot be the initial source of folkbiology. They also underscore the possibility of a species-wide and domain-specific basis for acquiring knowledge about the living world that is constrained and modified but not caused or created by prior non-biological thinking and subsequent cultural experience.
This article considers the semantic structure of the animal category from a cross-cultural developmental perspective. Children and adults from three North American communities (urban majority culture, rural majority culture and rural Native American) were prompted to generate animal names, and the resulting lists were analyzed for their underlying dimensionality and for the typicality or salience of specific animal names. The semantic structure of the animal category appeared to be consistent across cultural groups, but the relative salience of animal kinds varied as a function of culture and first-hand experience with the natural world. These results provide evidence of a shared representation of animals across disparate cultures but also indicate a role for culture in shaping animal concepts.
This work focuses on the underlying conceptual structure of children’s category of living things from a cross-cultural, cross-linguistic perspective. School-aged children (n = 129) from three Argentinean communities (rural Wichí-speaking, rural Spanish-speaking, urban Spanish-speaking) were asked to generate the names of living things. Analyses were focused on the typicality, semantic organization, and hierarchical level of the names mentioned. We identified convergences among the names generated by children in all three communities, as well as key differences: the typicality, habitats and hierarchical level of the categories mentioned varied as a function of children’s language and their direct experience with the natural world. These findings provide evidence concerning the role of language, culture and experience in shaping children’s folkbiological concepts.
In spite of evidence for cultural variation in adult concepts of the biological world (i.e., folkbiological thought), research regarding the influence of culture on children’s concepts is mixed, and cultural influences on many aspects of early folkbiological thought remain underexplored. Previous research has shown that there are cultural differences in ecological reasoning and psychological closeness to nature between Menominee Native American and rural European American adults (e.g., Medin et al., ; Bang et al., ). In the present research we examined whether these cultural concepts are available at 5–7 years of age. We conducted structured interviews in which each child viewed several pairs of pictures of plants and non-human animals and were asked how or why the species (e.g., raspberries and strawberries) might go together. We found that Menominee children were more likely than European American children to mention ecological relations and psychological closeness to nature, and that they were also more likely to mimic the non-human species. There were no differences between the two communities in the number of children’s responses based on taxonomic and morphological relations. Implications for the design of science curricula are discussed.
We examine two core folk-biological concepts (e.g., animate, living thing, where small capital letters denote concepts; quotation marks denote their names; italics denote language-specific names) in adults and children from the Wichí community, an indigenous group of Amerindians living in the Chaco forest in north Argentina. We provide an overview of the Wichí community, describing in brief their interaction with objects and events in the natural world, and the naming systems they use to describe key folkbiological concepts. We then report the results of two behavioral studies, each designed to deepen our understanding of the acquisition of the fundamental folkbiological concepts animate and living thing in Wichí adults and children. These results converge well with evidence from other communities. Wichí children and adults appreciate these fundamental concepts; both are strongly aligned with the Wichí community-wide belief systems. This work underscores the importance of considering cultural and linguistic factors in studying the acquisition of fundamental concepts about the biological world.