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and the Individual
Cognition: What Is It?
Early Beliefs about Cognitive Abilities
Wundt & Boas – “primitive” peoples do not have the kinds of
stimulation to develop cognitively and so do not
Levi Bruhl - Non-western thought is “prelogical”, less intellectual
and has intrinsic emotional and motor elements that are not
part of western inferential reasoning
Psychic Unity – the theory that all humans have the same
intellectual and cultural potential
Western Ethnocentrism - Western thinking is “scientific thinking”
and represents the ultimate in intelligent behavior. To think
scientifically is to perceive the world as it really is.
Scientific thinking/formal logic is thought to be acquired in
Western society late in childhood through formal schooling.
Unschooled/pre or illiterate individuals will not show this kind
of intelligence.
The “Great Divide” Theory
Evans Pritchard (1971): “much of the thought of primitive [sic]
people is difficult, if not impossible, for us to understand.”
Claude Levi-Strauss (1962): called the “savage mind” a jack-ofall-trades, using concrete signs instead of abstract concepts.
Bain (1992): Aboriginal [Australian] society functions according
to rules of interaction (authority and relationship based on
kinship and friendship) rather than on western principles of
transaction (professional roles and expertise, formal rules of
impersonal relationships)
Many cross cultural studies try to break down generalized
descriptions into operationalized aspects of cognition that can
be tested for differences and similarities.
Widely defined as “thought processes” used to solve problems
Information processing
Problems in the areas of
Inferential Reasoning,
Verbal Logical Reasoning,
Mathematical, and
Conceptual abilities
Inferential Reasoning
Inference = applying previously learned
elements to a new situation to come to a
valid conclusion. Based on principles of
Example of an experiment:
A box is divided into three parts, each with a door A, B & C
Participants are trained to:
get a marble by opening door A only and pushing a button A
behind the door.
get a ball bearing by opening door C only and pushing button
C behind the door.
Participants are then told that they can get a candy from the
box and to do whatever necessary to get the candy.
Inferential Reasoning
Participants were
U.S. School children AND Kpelle non-literate Adults and Children
(Traditional African tribal group)
Most U.S. Children over the age of 10 solved the problem.
15% of Kpelle adults solved the problem
30% of Kpelle children solved the problem
Kpelle children who were schooled spontaneously started working
immediately on the box.
Unschooled Kpelle children and Kpelle adults had to be encouraged to start
and showed fear of the box.
With prompting and encouragement, 60-80% solved the problem.
The test materials were unfamiliar and therefore interfered with performance
Keys and matchboxes substituted for the puzzle box caused 70-80% to solve
the problem and 90% to solve the problem with prompting/encouragement.
Kpelle can use inferential reasoning as well as Americans.
Inferential Reasoning
Verbal Logic
Verbal puzzles are called syllogisms.
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Is Socrates mortal?
Luria 1976 studied two groups of Uzbek and Kirghiz villagers. One group was
unschooled and unacculturated to collectivized farming. The other group
was schooled and acculturated.
When syllogisms contained familiar content all did well.
When syllogisms contained unfamiliar content the unschooled did not solve them
In the North, where there is snow all year, the bears are white;
Novaya Zemlya is in the far North;
What color are the bears there?
Example of an answer from an illiterate peasant is:
“How should I know what color the bear was. I haven’t been in the North.
You should ask the people who have been there and seen them. We always
speak only of what we see; we don’t talk about what we haven’t seen.”
Conclusions: Schooling – even a few months – allowed hypothetical reasoning
about things outside the practical experience of the participants. Those
without schooling used concrete reasoning.
Hypothetical vs Concrete Reasoning
Equivalent studies done in
Nganassan (Eurasia)
Kpelle (Liberia, Africa)
Maya (Mexico)
Schooled individuals perform well; unschooled individuals perform at the level of
chance even when the content of the syllogism is familiar.
Unschooled participants hear the syllogism information through a filter of
personal knowledge and transform it as they hear it.
EG. If Sumo or Saki drink palm wine, the Town Chief gets vexed;
Sumo is not drinking palm wine;
Saki is drinking palm wine;
Is the town chief vexed?
One Kpelle participant’s answer:
“The town Chief was not vexed on that day. The reason is that he doesn’t
love Sumo. Sumo’s drinking gives people a hard time, that is why the Town
Chief gets vexed. But when Sake drinks palm wine, he does not give a hard
time to people, he goes to lie down to sleep. At that rate people do not get
vexed with him”
Categorization = grouping like items
together for efficiency of memory and
1. Color Categories
2. Emotion Categorization by Faces
3. Equivalence Sorting by Categories
Color Categories
Berlin and Kay
Concepts of color categories labeled by color terms
Evolution of color terms
1. Dark vs. light
2. Dark vs. light & red
3. Dark vs. light, red & blue OR green
4. Dark vs. light, red, green & blue
5. Dark vs. light, red, green, blue & yellow
Examples. Stage 1 – Jale, New Guinea Highlands
Sing (black) vs. holo (white)
- Dani, New Guinea Highlands
Muli (dull) vs. Mola (brilliant)
Stage 1: New Guinea
Congo, Africa
South India
Stage 2: 17 cultures in Africa
Pomo Indians, North America
Australian Aborigines
Stage 3: 8 cultures in Africa
2 cultures in the Philippines
2 cultures in Australia
Homeric Greek
Stage 4: 5 Native American cultures
2 Native American cultures in Canada
1 culture in Indonesia
4 cultures in Africa
5 cultures in Mexico
1 culture in Colombia
Core and Extension based on this presentation of color variation:
• Core is the best example of the color.
This is very consistent across cultures.
• Extension is what colors are included
within the color category. This varies
greatly between cultures.
Facial Expressions and Categories of Emotion
Ekman – sets of pictures of “pure” (Core) emotions expressed on
faces (including prototypic expressions of happiness, sadness,
anger, fear, surprise, disgust) were judged correctly by
South Americans
Two New Guinea groups (Dani and Fore)
Cultural differences were found in Extension factors:
1. Organization of categories into superordinated categories
2. Category boundaries
3. Classification of blended emotions
4. The rules for when categories of emotion can be used
5. The number of terms that exist to label emotions
Classification of objects in the cultural environment
Noun categories serve as prototypes standing for the “best
Chair (different sizes, shapes, heights, colors, etc.)
Car (different models, sizes, shapes, colors, styles)
Ways of classifying objects
1. Perceptual criteria (color, form)
2. Functional criteria (things are found together or are used
together in real life)
3. Taxonomic criteria (abstract qualities that are not obvious
functionally or perceptually)
These three ways of classifying appear to be developmental in
American kids (all of whom are schooled).
Examples of cross-cultural studies of categorization/sorting
Uganda and Colombia: Sorting by taxonomy was a function of grade in
school in school children.
Yupno of Papua New Guinea: Adults sorted by function; schooled
children sorted by color; the older generation (especially men) sorted
by abstract (non-perceptual) hot and cold qualities that are a function of
general cultural knowledge acquired over time.
Nigeria vs. Glasgow, Scotland: Schooled Nigerian children outperformed
Scottish school children in overall sophistication of
sorting/categorization in a situation where the Nigerian children were
more familiar with the test materials.
Familiarity with the test materials and the testing context is essential to
good performance
Schooling may lead to the tendency to search for characteristics that are
less obvious
Sensory memory:
Information from senses that remains for only a few seconds unless
you attend to it, moving it to short term memory
Short term memory (AKA working memory):
Memory that manages the information you are actually using at any
given point in time
Kept in memory for about 30 seconds unless you focus on it, when it
then is transferred into long term memory
Can only manage about 7 (+- 2) things at a time in short term memory
Long term memory:
Storing almost unlimited amounts of information over long periods of
Retrieval depends on how the memories are encoded (categorized and
Do non-literate people have better memories because they rely on oral
traditions and cannot store memories in written form?
Ghanaian and American University Students: Ghanaian students recalled stories
told in English better than their American counterparts, even though English
was their second language.
Kpelle individuals, both schooled and non schooled were able to recall lists of
objects as well as Americans when they were allowed to use their own
categories and clustering strategies.
Moroccan males (7-19): The recency effect (remembering the last because it is
most recently viewed) was consistent across schooled and non-schooled
participants. (Believed to be a hard-wired function of short term memory)
The primacy effect (remembering the first because of verbal rehearsal)
developed with age only in schooled children. (Believed to be part of a strategy
for remembering)
Conclusions: The structure of memory is universal, but strategies for
remembering are culturally determined and vary.
Schooling teaches people to remember things in aggregates based on abstract
principles that must be learned.