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Andrea S. Tavernaa, Andrea S. Tavernaa, Sandra R. Waxman, Andrea S. Tavernaa, Sandra R. Waxman, Douglas L. Medin, Andrea S. Tavernaa, Sandra R. Waxman, Douglas L. Medin and Olga A. Peralta


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.

Sara J. Unsworth, Wallis Levin, Megan Bang, Karen Washinawatok, Sandra R. Waxman and Douglas L. Medin


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., 2006; Bang et al., 2007). 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.

Andrea S. Taverna, Sandra R. Waxman, Douglas L. Medin, Nora Moscoloni and Olga A. Peralta

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.