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Journal Title: Ethnobiology 1 Edited by E. N. Anderson, D. Pearsall, E. Hunn, N.
Turner.
Vol:
No:
MonthNear: /2011
Pages: Chapter 20
Article:
Author: Norbert Ross, Caissa Revilla Minaya; Cognitive Studies in Ethnobiology; What
Can We Learn About the Mind as Well as Human Environmental lnteraction?
Patron: Hertzog, Werner
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Please briefly describe the problem and initial: _ {) 1\1
Chapter 20
Cognitive Studies in Ethnobiology:
What Can We Learn About the
Mind as Well as Human
Environmental Interaction?
NoRBERT Ross
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
CAISSA REVILLAMINAYA
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
CATEGORIZATION AND REASONING
CATEGORIZATION: EXPERTISE AND CULTURE
REASONING: EXPERTISE AND CULTURE
REASONING, CULTURE AND BEHAVIOR
ACQUISITION OF FOLKBIOLOGICAL MODELS: INNATE MODELS AND
CULTURALKNOWLEDGE
WHAT IS CULTURE AND HOW DO WE STUDY IT?
CONCLUSION
REFERENCES
337
338
341
343
345
346
347
347
As cognitive scientists we are interested in folkbiology as a domain that allows us to explore
the developing mind in phylogenetic and ontogenetic tenns. Everyone has sorne exposure to
the biological world; hence comparative research is feasible. Throughout most ofhuman his-
tmy, our species engaged with the biological world for survival, so biology might be one
domain where evolutionaty biases in our cognitive apparatus-if they indeed exist-are
most salient. As anthropologists we are interested in folkbiology for two reasons, which
Ethnobio/ogy. Edited by E. N. Anderson, D. Pearsall, E. Hunn, and N. Turner
;) 2011 Wiley-Biackwell. Published 2011 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
335
336 ChaplL'r 20 Cugnitiv.: Studks in
COllllCL'( (ll the interests or tht: cognitive st:it:ntists. \Ve ask IHI\\" hlllll<lll tltllll)!ht ahllll( the
environment relates tu tllL' ways our speties at:h u pon tht t'll\ inlllllttnt. Rtstardt in this
arta relates wmk with hehavioral studits uf" 1\''illlii"L't' mana.!t'lllt'lll and l'llllllitt
over resoun.:es,(Atran L'l al. Jl)ll
1
1. 2002; Medin et al. l{tlss
Ross et al. 2007). Another inquiry txplores the atquisittott, transrlli'islllll. a11d tr;mslunuation
uf knuw kdge. ex plori ng eh i ldren s karn i IIF. 1 ransm iss Hlll. and t r;mslt 1111 tal in11 ol k IH 1w kdpt
across cultures ami generatilllls. and loss ol" 1 Atr;m ;md r-.kdin :\trantt ;d.
2004; Ross 2002a.h; Rnss t'l al. 200.\; Stross 1
1
J70; \Va\1\l<lll t'l al. .
1
007; \\'11IIT t'l al. JlJlJlJ;
Zarger 2002a.h; Zarger and Stcpp Ztnt 11. Thtst studits link tltt two disttplines
involvcd in tlll' cugnitive rL'seardl ol" folkhiology. and relatt' tht Wtltk 111 t'llvinllllllt'lltal tdu
Tllcy cunncct l"olkhiology with thturl'lical questious tn cultme ;urd
proeesses 1 A tran et al. 2005; Ross 21 )( ).J; S wrhL'I' 1
1
JIJ().
We address impurtant aslL'cts in t:ulturt and hy itHnldutin,t: vultuf\ inlt1 tlw
study uf the mind ami vice versa. lmpurtant and rckvant lilt'l<tllllt' 1'> "Jllt.ad 11\L'f' a Wllk
array ol'journals thal very likl'ly du IHI( rl'ptt'SL'lll tllt' stapk t'lading PI any unt.'
tiu L'Xample: .lolll'lltil o/ l.'tl/1/ohio/ogv; l."tHiolllit /lotclfll". ltlulld'tr
1
log\ 1111.! 1-:thno
mctlidnt': Currcnt :\ntltm't'lugr: .lnumul o/tlw Roro/ :\nthn'f't'/nglntl .\ot wrr: ( ,,;nttion:
Child !Jcrdollllt'lll: lll\'l'hologitu/ Nl'l'itu: and 11111111111 ptn\ idt, a
fur an intq.1ratiw appruadt. "' dillttt'lll tht'tiJt'llt\tl and lllt'lltlldllln.ttal atHI
m:hil'VL'llll'llls are ulkn ignmtd al'Jo'' tht' !Wtl di,l'iplillt'' IRt''' ;tlld t\kd111. in J'l\''-''
[n anlhmpn[ogy the initial lnt> ha' ht't'll nn tht t 11/llott ni loiJ...htolltt,l't';d
knuwblgt' the ducUiliL'lltation ol intrkalt' hllll\\ blt '''lt'lll' a' hl'id lndicnnu'
ptuple !lkrlintt al. 1
1
)7.1: C'unklin llJ:\ . .1, haht' !lltd. 1%.
1
1 Tlrt t\uly work 111 thi'
dumain hy Bl'rlin l'l al. tl
1
l7.\, 1
1
1111 pruvcd 111 ,,;\ct;d lq'atd .. hr;,l.
i t shmwd tllL' twwssi t y uf i nttrd isc pi nary tt''l'atdl hy i llt'tllfltlra! i ng !11 11 ;lflt"h and /tlt ,, l' .. t-
intn largL'"scale prujtrts. St'l'tHHI. llll' rtwardt '-t'l ;1 lut o,t;tnd;nd 111 lt'lllt' ot
systematiL' hutgtt'nn data t'olkl'tiun in tht Jil'ld. lht prnJt'VI '>llll\\l'd th.1t lodh nptth 11fll'n
huid hiologit.:al knowledge L:ontparahk tn if nrl! t'\ntdinv hhl'"itrlttli,. J...wm
Similar projtLts I'PIInwl'd 1 ll;tlt:l. 21 102; Mt'''L'f' I
1
1'J 1; SltqliHd 1'! al . ,; h11t ;md hnt
20021. yd partially driwn hy LTitidsm in lht i111.u, ,, llllt'l\''-l t'\parnlnl
from doL'lllllL'Ilting sokly grnllf' knulr!ttlgr tu tltl' dwril111f11111 "1 l.nnH/;,/gt'
1rithin grou1.1 tBtlsll'r lllH7; la Torn ( 'uadtm attd Rm. Rll'" ;
1
00.\r.h ..
1
fHIIJ
Studying knuwledgl' distrihution wa' l'llliannd hv tlrt l'llll'l}'lllV 11'1' ni nunPt"<IIIIJlllll'l'
ami tlll' dL'\'L'lopment pf statistkal llllllkls .... udt ''" th1 ( 'ultur.tl ( PII'>t'll'll" \l1>th'l
IRonmey t'l al. I
1
1XItl. whit-h we will i111\n\ 20.1. Tht''>l' -.tudh.'' tll\nhtd Jd.altH'l\
little attentitHl totlll' pnK'L'ss ol"thinktng. \\'htllllt' think \\;1; H'JY "llt'll mdl'fll..'ltdtnth
ur ltoll" thinkng (/l"flltlll\' IIIt'S '''lll 1' (Ir t\lldntdt.' l
1
JX 1; fm llll'\l'l'J'll '" 't'C H .. mdall 1
1
1'/(1,
1
1
1X7 l. YL'al"' it J, ck;u tlmt J..ntndnlgl' ll'flft'flf r.IIHH l ht t.pll!l<'d lnm
tlw mWt'IIng o( injormotiuni l..wlll-lcdgt.
Rqll'l'SL'lllational sys!Lnts ut a L'il'>l' in poitll. Culturt fl111\dt' tH.'.IIIIlnl ,\,h'lll' 11!
knuwblgt' (J r i\ndr<Hil' JIJH 1 l m L'U!!I!\l' tuoh 1 Nnrma11 IIJII { 1 \\ tlh I''"JItr
t that afl\.ct in for111at ion Tht''L' inn;tl d h'1. h'" an IHII d 11. 11 llll'tlln 1
for navigation tllutdlins I
1
JX.I. 1
1
1
1
!) ami !111 !llllltt'tkalt'li}.'JlliHIIII' F. ( 'hll'<lflhtlt ....
Milll'n.t al.

I'IHXI.
tttnd to produttion. distrilllllion. tr;m ... and uan,fulltl;tllilll ni thl' hno1\ 1
in sutio Tltt implit:atiPII" g11 'lll'f1Vt.'.
addrtssin! 'lllllt' ol" lht major ol anthmpnl11gtv;d ll'Waltlt, ... udt 11k.1
systems as units witlmut history.
Categorization and Reasoning 337
Cultuml (.'omnsus and Residual Analysis
We do nut c.:nnsitkr tu a limitcd set of
practiccs ami lwlid< hut distrihution of
ideas in a particular group nf woplc. Our intcrcst
is precise! y tn lkttmli tlw pallt!l'llS in
thcsc distrihutnns :111d to cxplain thc proccsses
that may lw lwhiml sueh pattcrns. Wc use thc
Cultural Mmkl (C'CM) to mcasure the
existellCl' nf a rnnscnsus alllllll!/. gnntps of partid-
pauts amlthc extl'nl 111 which an imtividmtlntrlici-
in this nr ap.l't'CS wilh thc overall
modd (Nakm ami Rllllllll'Y 1 lJX4; Romncy ct ul.
19K6; Ross .:WOll. Tlw ('('M is a faetor-analytkal
modclthat tht partidpant ugree-
mcnt matr x in ternh ol varaiiL:t: cxplninl.!d by thc
lirst factor. < \ 1:an be if ( 1) lhe
ratio uf 1\rst ami s1:cond is grenter
lhan J, (2lthc lirst l'al'hll' l'Xplains nlargc amount of
varinnL'l', ami U) a ti partidpanls' lirst raewr loud-
ings are high ami
11' l'Xists are formully justilicd
(1 J lo aggr,gatl' individual n:sponscs lo a modal
l'or :nmpamt.ivc purpnsrs and (2) to
explore nf subgmups of nfnrmunts,
huscd 1111 palll'rn' tlf nsitltwf agreeme11t-
ngrccment not explained by two individu!lls' par-
tidpation in the overall consensus (Nakao md
Ronmey 1984; Romney et aL 1986; Ross 2004).
Residual agrcement is calculated by sub-
tractng predicted agreement (the ptoduct of two
particpants' individual agreement wth the consen-
smtl model) from obserPed agreement, The tesult-
ing residual agreement matrix can be explorcd
with respcct to specific group differences (is
within-group residual agreement higher than
between-group residual agreement?). Distribution
of residual agreement does not have to be sym-
mctdcal, that is, members of one group mght
agrce more with their peers than with. members of
the other group but not vice versa (see Medin
et al. 2006a for an example). In this case, the first
gmup holds a sub-model not shared by themem-
bers of the second group, which does not have a
group-specific sub-model. Residual analysis also
allows us to explore whether specific personal attd-
butes predict higher residual agreement. Combined,
thesc analyses provide powerful tools to explore the
structure and distribution of domain specific
knowledge.
ResLarL"hers in folkhiology havc bcen on the forefront of integrating di verse the01ies and
metilmls. Tmditionuf ethnographic methods merge with experimental field methods and
sKeilil' attalytiealteehniqucs, such us the cultural consensus model, the analysis ofresidual
ami socialnetwork analysis.
CATEGORIZATION ANO REASONING
'1 'he assumpt ion ora universal folkbiology domain might seem challenged by linguistic
h11 exampk. most Maya languages do not have words
part kks) for "living kinds," "animals," or "plants." Instead, mtiallmgmsuc encodmg based
' 1' 1 1 ("t "/"m nmal") This however does not
on wonls huppcns at the hc- 01111 eve tee m , , .
1 t al categories that share mpor-
mcan thal animals ami p/ants are not recogmzec as concep u
" "b bl t dt' e" or "grow " Many perhaps
tant t'catures, umong othcrs "bcmg ahve, emg a e o , .
most. Indigcnous languages share this. Some languages (includmg Yucatec Maya) mark
"planl" "animal" with specilic prelixes or counters. .
The hig"csturgument
11
favor of a shared domain of from
."' . ]' , "l'y plat1ts and animals 111 stmJiar ways, suggestmg
mto catcgor!l.allon. Pcoplc appem toe . ' , . .
l
. . t d t ct the "lines and cracks m the evolutlon
that m u eognitivc apparatlls evo! ve( m ways
0
e e . d .
of ( ;\tran l)l)(), l)l)H; Bcrlin 1992). In this account, folkbwlogy represents a ommn
338 Chapter 20 Cognitive Studies in Ethnobiology
ofhuman cognition that specitically evolvcd tu rcasun ahout and tu intcrm:t with thc biologi-
cal world. This would make folkbiology un innutc cognitivc l'aculty, likc languagc (act:ord-
ing to sorne theories), nai've physit:s, alHI na'ivc psychulugy. Studics with infants indit:atc thc
existence ofinnate and quickly acquircd skclctal principies spccilic to thc ahovc-mcntioned
domains. Some researchers hold that, rather than heing an indcpcmknt domain. hiological
understandings develop out nf childrcn's umlcrstanding 111' l'ulkpsychology: thc way
humans reason about othcr humans. In this acwunt, young dJildrcn initially rcason about
animals and plants based on thcir knowlcdgc almut humans allll, only alkr going through
a conceptual change (akin to Kuhn's paradigm shirt). do tllL'y dcvclop a truc l'olkbiology
(Carey 1985). We will come back to this discussion, as it hcars upon sume crucial issues
of child development as well as thc role of culturalallllcxpL'rtisc diiTcrcnLes.
Interest in taxonomic structures carne in part l'mmlinguistiL tvidcnce showing the exist-
ence of similar taxonomies around thc glohe (Bcrl in 1 t)92 ). Ex pcrinll'lltal sorting mcthods
(see Ross 2004 for some exampb) supportcd ami extended thc linguistic cvitlcncc to a
strong body of data describing some cure principies ol' laxonornic structurcs.
The interest in taxonomic structurcs parallelctl thc coguitiw scL'tlt't' iutcrcsts in categ-
orization and categories as the lmilding /Jiocks o( thought ( Smitil aJHI Mcdin llJH 1 ).
Categories not only allow for cflicicnt thougilt and conllllllniL'at ion hy lurnping clcmcnts
together (see D' Andrade 1995), bul also- amlmaylw llliH'l' impmtantly catcgmics ami
categorical slrm:tures provide thc bases l'or rcasoning pronssts.
Criticism of anthropologkal w.:cnunts ol' propostd tlwt thc taxonomi-
cal structures do not represen! lndigenous l'orms of thought, hut instcad are tlw outcomc ol'
the structuring produccd by the methmls applicd 11 :Jien 1 lJH(, ). To countcr this clainr one
needs to show that thc elicited taxonnmit: structurcs art actually used by nur inl'ormants
when reasoning about thc spedcs involvcd. lf this is the Wt' can assuniL' that the elicitcd
stmctures represen! somc aspcct ol' hmv humans organilL' knuwll'dgt. l now cxists
that this is the case. Arguing against a utilitarian that is, that lndigcnous
know the world only to the cxtcnl that thcy need it ( 1 1ianH urd 1 tJ7 2 l. lkrl in pn 1p< 1ses a vicw
that accounts for the emergen ce of systems of biological classi lil'ations as tlw rcsult of
"human beings' inescapablc amllargcly UIIL'llllscimrs apprcciation uf the inhL'f'L'IIl structurc
of biological reality" (Bcrlin llJ92: H). Severa! questions imrmdiatt'ly emerge fm J'urthcr
research. First, how do folk-taxomnnics lll' living kimls tll st'icntilic taxl.lllomies
and to one anothcr? Second, are folk-t:rxonomks cmploytd in rl'asonin!. stratcgiL'S (ami if
so, how)? Third, nre there specilic kvcls in taxonomks that art more has k. lr example,
deemed as more relevan! l'or inductivc rcasoning'! hntrth, how L'illegorization ami
reasoning hold up in a context of cross-cullural and tl'SL'arch'.'
Categorization: Expertise and Culture
We have comparative data from Europl!an-J\mcril'an lish from tlw south-
east United Statcs (cnst Plorida. wcst r:lorida, Texas. ami North CamlinaJ !Bnstcr and
Johnson 1989); cxperts and noviecs on songhirds and tropical frl'shwatl'r tish (.lohnsun
and Mervis l9lJ8); freshwater fish cxpt:rts allll noviL'es antong ML'IIolllincc and Euro-
Americans in Wisconsin (Medin el al. 2002. :?.OOl: hin! ami novit.'t's in Chit:agu:
Itza' Maya of Guatemala (Bailenson el al. 2002 ): Itza Maya ami lln i vcrsity of M il'lrigan
students on local mammals (Lpcz ct al. }lJlJ7), and kinds (11' L'Xpcrts in thc
greater Chicago arca (Mctlin et al. llJIJ7). In addition \W data on T1l'ltal M a va l'armers
ancl their plant clnssilication (Bcrlin l'l al. 1974 ), as wcll as Aguaruna hin!
Categorization and Reasoning 339
(Boster et al. 1 986) and how they compare with those of University of Kentucky students
(Boster 1987; Boster and D' Andrade 1998).
. points clear body ofwork (see also Hunn and Brown, 2011):
are generally sumlar across the globe and tend to agree strongly with
scientihc classificatwns. On average, the correlations between folk-taxonomies and scienti-
lic range aroun_d r = 0.6 (see Ross and Tidwell2010). This lends support to
the above-mentJOnecl suggestJons that folk classification systems might indeed have devel-
oped as the intcrplay of cognitive factors (including perception) with the biological world,
rather lhan one or the other.
1
Second, in-group and cross-group agreement are very often
coupled with systcmatic within-group differences. Two candidates to account for group
differenccs ha ve been tested: cultural fiameworks and expertise, both of which have been
shown to impact categorization. Boster and Johnson (1989) have shown that the move
from novice to expcrt is not justa m ove from not knowing to knowing, or from an incoherent
to a more coherent model, but a clifference in models per se. Expe1ts tend to be aware of and
pay attention to features not recognized or valued by non-experts.
Following the idea of different goal stmctures and related practices, Douglas Medin and
his collaborators explored the categorization schemes of different kinds oftree expetts in the
wider Chicago arca (Medin et al. 1997). Results indicate that both agreement and group-
specific disagreement are largely explainable with respect to the needs and interests of the
groups in question (Medin et al. 1997; Proffitt et al. 2000). Acknowledging expertise as
multidimensional opened the spuce of exploring the role of cultural frameworks or epistem-
ologies. Along thcse lines Medin and collaborators compared Menominee and Euro-
American llsh experts and novices in rural Wisconsin (Medin et al. 2002, 2006b). Given
thc setting, "novices" in these studies were rather knowledgeable when compared to college
students-the usual suspects in comparative research. Everyone in the arca had done at least
some kind of fishing at one point in hisjher Iife. Previous studies on categorization and
reasoning suggested that experts would agree more with one another than with non-experts
of their own gro u p. On the other hand, non-experts in these studies were always college stu-
dents, who differcd from the experts not only in their lack of expertise, but also in factors
such as age, education and incentive to participate (very often class credit).
Members of all four groups basically agreed with one another on the classification of
local freshwater fish species. Experts and non-expetts of each group agreed more with
one another than with either the two expert or the two non-expert groups. Our data
seemcd to ha ve tapped into culturally specific differences in the acquisition of expettise lead-
ing to diffcrenccs in kinds of expertise. Data c!early establish the importance of cultural fra-
meworks in the acquisition of folkbiological expertise in ways not captured by studies
simply looking at levels of expertise.
An extcnsion to the above-mentioned study with Menominee and Majority Culture fish-
ing cxperts clarifics how specific cultural frameworks provide the ground for emerging
differenccs among experts across cultures (see Medin et al. 2002, 2006b).
Combining the cultural consensus model with an analysis of residual agreement (see
Box 20.1) we explored the folk-taxonomic models ofthe two expert groups for
water fish (elicitcd in a carel pile sort). We detected a cross-group consensus parred w1th
1 is importan! Lo note thal different dimensions of how people categorize their world an:
intcrdcpcmlcnt. Whilc pcoplc might attend to different dimensions, the outcome m terrns of of .
living kinds might be similar. For cxample, for Menominee fish below) we ":'ere able 1denttfy
ccological reasoning in thcir catcgorization of freshwater fish, en!a!lmg topcs su eh as food cham and habita!. Both
of thcsc dimcnsions m-e clcarly linked to thc morphology of fish.
340 Chapter 20 Cognitive Studies in Ethnobiology
systematic asymmetric differences in residual agreement. Menominee experls holu a submo-
del not shared with Euro-Americans, but not vice versa. Wc aggregated the data for cach
group into a combined model, which was analyzed using multidimensional scaling. In
arder to represent the model of the Euro-American experls two dimensions were needed, cor-
relating with the desirability of the Hsh ami their size. For the Menomince data three dimen-
sions were needed to achieve a Ht for their sorting elata. Two dimensions eorrelated with size
and desirability and the third dimension-not found among Euro-Americans-cmrelated
with what we termed an ecological dimension (for example, sorting by habitat).
Severa! months Jater we conductcd a set of different but relatcd lasks. First, wc asked
participants to describe fish-lish interactions for all possiblc pairs or 21 llsh species (e.g.,
"Does A affect B or B affect A?"). In this task we asked aboul 420 potenlial relations
within approximately 1.5 hours, that is, questions were paced at a f'airly high speed.
We detected the same agreement pattcrn: cross-group consensus with only Menominee
holding a systematic sub-model not sharcd by Euro-American experls. Menominee experls
reported more relations overall ami more reciproca! relations. Euro-American lishennen
mainly reported interactions involving adult llsh of the kind "u musky will eat a northern."
These relations were seen by Menominee too, but they added relations hetween lish ol' the
whole life cycle as well as relations other than "A eats B." Intereslingly, lherc was only a
small set of relations reportee! by Euro-American lish experts hut nol Menominee. These
relations typically involved food-chain relations between predalor ami prey lish thal are
rarely-if at all-found in thc same waters (a t'acl lhal was lypically menlioned by
Menomince participants).
On the surface it would seem that we were observing cultural diiT!.!rence in knowledge.
However, om our ethnographic work we knew that the partieipaling Euro-Americun
experts were as knowledgeable as their Menominee counterparts with respecllo lish hahitals
ancl it seemed implausible that Euro-American lish experls would have so lillle ecological
knowledge.
In a follow-up experiment we had parlicipanls sort the lish according lo di!Terenl habi-
tats (each sh could be assigned to severa! habitats). Members ot' both groups did not diiTer
in their responses. Euro-American experts described lish as nol sharing a habilal, l'or which
in the previous task they had describcd a hig eats sma/1 relationship. These data rdnt'on:ed
the notion that the cultural differences triggered in the t'ormer Las k did not represen! a simple
cultural difference with respect to existing ecological knowledge.
Provided the differencc in knowledge organization, we theorized thal the enclllllllered
cultural differences might represent differenccs in C/('Ce.\'.1' to knowledge rather titan knoll'!-
edge per se. Thc sorting task suggesls thal Mcnominel.! lishermen makc use oran ewlogical
organization, which might facilitatc answering questions aboutlish .. Jish interactions. On the
other hancl, if thc Euro-American experts focus more on taxonumic relations it may take
more time ancl effort to rctricvc infonnation about ecological rl'latiuns. To test this idea
we repcatecl the lish- Jish intcraction task severa! monlhs later. llowever, 1 his ti me wc
reduccd the number of probes from 420 to 35 (focusing mainly un the probes ror which
differences were found in the initial task), allowing for approximately the same time.
Results conlirmcd our hypothesis. When providing the parlicipants with more time lo
answer the cultural diffcrences disappear with the Euro-Ameril:ans answL:ring likc
Menominee, who respond in ways similar to thc l'ast paced lask.
Experts ofthe two groups share base knowlcdgc wilh respecl to ecological rclations allll
sh habitats. This should not be surprising given the fact thal on average experts or the two
groups fished for over 40 years. Arguably, knowing whcre lish can he found reprcsenls an
important piece of information within llshing, This ecological knowletlgc, however, is nol
Reasoning: Expertise and Culture 341
eq u y accessible. VI_ e find systematic ?roup differences ( which one might be tempted to call
cultmal), yet these d1fferences are not m knowledge per se but in access to this knowledge.
Cultural frameworks clearly play an important role with respect to categorization. The
data fmther show. provide an organization of knowledge, which in tum
affects the accesstbthty of kinds of specific knowledge.
This illustrates the importance of a combination of formal quantitative tasks
and ethnographJC methods. Data show that it is important to pay attention to the nature of
the interview and probes applied. Instead of attempting to find sorne diagnostic "gold stan-
dard" task that will reveal what people think or know, one needs coordinated and converging
measures across a range of tasks.
REASONING: EXPERTISE ANO CULTURE
Research in the cognitive sciences has shown that category structure provides the basis for
reasoning strategies. These are considered heuristics for inference making (or decision
making) when relevant information is incomplete. We will focus on two kinds of reasoning.
The first is inductive reasoning about categories and their prope1ties (what is often called
category-based induction or CBI). Cultural research has shown the importan ce of framework
theories and the organization of knowledge to this kind of reasoning. The second is causal
reasoning, on which interesting cross-cultural research is also taking place (Burnett and
Medin 2008).
Research on the use of categories in reasoning has been guided by theories of induction
that suggest pdnciples of induction, which may be universal. Probably the best known theory
is the Osherson et al. (1990) similarity-coverage model. Three phenomena associated with
the theory have received the most attention: similarity, typicality and diversity.
The similarity principie of induction describes the fact that two kinds seen as similar
(closer related in terms of their taxonornic distance) are more likely to share a previously
unknown (and invisible) propetty /charactedstic, compared to two kinds that are taxonomi-
cally more distant. For example, informants usually judge rnice and rats as more likely to
share sorne unknown property than rnice and penguins.
The typicality principie describes the fact that more typical members of a category are
more likely to have features common to all the category members than less typical ones. For
example, if infmmants are told that sparrows have sorne protein x inside them and that pen-
guins have sorne protein y inside them, they judge that it is more Iikely that all birds have
protein x than protein y.
Final! y, the diversity principie describes the fact that individuals are usually more Iikely
to asciibe a property to the whole category when told that two taxonornically distant category
members share that propetty, than when told that two taxonomically similar category mem-
bers share a propetty. A projection from mice and cows to all mammals is stronger than a
projection from rnice and rats to all mammals.
Studies with undergraduate students have shown stable effects with respect to these
three phenomena. However, cross-cultural and cross-expertise studies reveal quite a different
picture. Lo pez et al. ( 1997) compared the categorization and CBI of University of Michigan
students with Itza' Maya of the tropical rainforest of Guatemala with respect to local mam-
mals (for each group a slightly different set of mammals was used). Specifically, they tested
(!) whether members of the two groups use a similar taxonornic structure and (2) whether
they use the three above-described principies when reasoning about categories and category
members. The researchers found that Itza' Maya and Michigan undergraduates tended to sort
l
l
342 Chapter 20 Cognitive Studies in Ethnobiology
rnammals into categories in more or less similar ways, relying on morphologil:al character-
istics and, in the case of the ltza', also on ceologil.:al factors such as habita! (c.g., otters
are distinct as water creatures and bats are considcred to he hinls by ltza' l. Buth groups
also showed similarity and typicality ciTccts in reasoning. Howcver, although undcrgradu-
ates relied heavily on thc diversity principies, l!l.a' Maya farmcrs showed lwlow chunc
diversity reasoning.
The study has obvious limitations as it confmmds cultural with difti:rences
in age, education, ancl so on ami, most notably, in cxpertise with respccl lo living kinds. 1t
does challenge, however, the univcrsality ofat leaslonc principies, clilasity. Thc chal-
lenge then is to understand why the two gruups reasoncd su dillercnlly wlwn il camc to taxo-
nomic diversity.
Subsequent studics pinpoint domain knowledgc ami cxpcrtise (hulh thc levl'i ami kind
of expertise) as being onc critica! factm. Proflitt et al. (2000) studied inductive reasoning
about trees among three different groups of Euro-American trec exK'rts: landscapers, park
maintenance workers, and taxonomists. Park workcrs, likc thc Itza' Maya tcsted by l.owz
et al. ( 1997), responded reliably bclow chance with lo the di11'1'.1itr flrine'ifl/1'.
Another finding is of intercst herc: whcn judging which of 1wo kinds of trecs was more
likcly to share a discase with all othcr uccs, thc threc dillcn:nt groups uf Chkagoarca
tree cxperts preferrcd thc tree with wilkr geographic distrihutitHI or susL"L'P
tibility lo diseasc. In thc formercasc, thc idea is thal trces with widcr distrihution
have greater potcntial to pass thc disease In othcr species. In tlw !alter case, thc ralionalc is
that the discase will spread mure casily among trees uftlll' susn'llihlc spL'L"its. which I"L'JHins
the disease widely distributcd amlmme likcly to spread to otlll'r spel"ics.
This smt of ccnlogical and causal rcasoning appcms lo IK' pn llllinent aiiJIIIIg i 11 1\lrmant.s
with considerable domain knowledgc. In rcasoning ahoul tor "littk-
things inside") in birds, both North Americ.:an hirdwatchers and ltt:t' Maya rarlliL'I"S in
Guatemala tended to base thcir inferenccs on causal cculogical illlL'ntL"tions, '1lten lotusing
on geographic dislribution (Bailenson et al. 2002). They lL'Iltbltu [H"l'I\:r, as He1niscs, hirds
that were rich in known eeologieal assoeiations with uther hinls.
Finally, we asked the Menominee and Euro-American lishenncn of Wisctlllsin t1 re 111
about diseascs and enzymes in Jish. Mosl ol"the prohL:s lcnt themst'lves lo by typi
cality, similarity, or diversity. Ovcrnll, only I.J% of infercnccs WL'fL' 1111 ami/
or taxonomic.: rclalionships. Fully ()()IYc, wcrc bascd on translllission of tlw pmpl'rty tlllllllgh
ecological intcraetions (Burnett el al. 2005 ).
One might conclude that only noviees lacking additional knmvledge laxunultlit
similarity as a basis for reasoning. The story, howewr, is more l'IHIIpkx. Knuwkll.tahil' na
soners almost su re! y prefer similarily-hascd stratcgics fm propLrtiLs that ( thL'Y hdiLn l par
ticipatc in the similarity-based :>lrtH.:ture of thc domain. ProkssinnallaxtHHllllists did shuw
divcrsity eiTeets ami cmploy taxonomk similarity most of thl' tiliiL' t l'roflitt t't al. :!OtlOl.
Similarity-based slructurc formed pan uf a causal fralllL'Work. Knowkdge providts Ikxi
bility: a varicty of stralcgies thal allow the n.:asonL'r to prujl'cl difti.rcrll propcrtits in di llncnt
ways. Shafto ami Coley (2005) found lhal, whcrcas fishanletl pnjecll'd distast's avcmdn1p
lo food chain relutions among marine animals. thL'Y )J"ojcL!ld IIHH"t' ahstract or amhi!ll\llls
propcrties likc an imaginary "propcrly ealled surca" liiiHlllg stllllt' animals attonling to
similarily or taxonmnic.: relatcdness, as did domain nnviL'cs.
Even novices show this kind of lkxibility when slimuli tap tlll'ir llsing l'l"ll
logical contmsts that even undergrmluates oftcn knmv (t:.g., jungll' neatun:s wrsus ikSl'il
ercatures), Shafto, Coley, and Baldwin (Shalio el al. 2005 1\lund th;t, awinst a hal"k!l'llUIId
prcferenee for reasoning lll'cording to laxonomic rclatcdnL'ss, slwwed a
Reasoning: Expertise and Culture 343
to distinguish Participants with greater knowledge of the eco-
logtcalyroups were more hkely to proJect diseases and toxins, butnot abstract properties Jike
"sarca, among eeologically related animals.
Causal stories, howcvcr, are not uni-dimensional, but are often influenced by the fore-
grounding/hackgrounding of specific kinds of information. One way to envision this
8
Barsalou's. argumcnt of categorization (1991), special ways of categorizing
ami rcasonmg thal make certam kmds of knowledge more or less accessible. Cultural dif-
fcrences may oflcn be saliency effects driven by framework theories or epistemological
oricntations that lcad to diffcrcnt orientations with respect to sorne domain like folkbiology
or thc rdation to human being of the rcst of nature (Bang et al. 2007). We will come back to
this point.
Categorics might providc a privileged leve! for reasoning. The idea of privileged or
h11.1"it' ht'l'l has been descl'ibed by Rosch et al. (1976), for whom the generic-species leve!
provitkll the basic leve] for reasoning. A psychologically prefen-ed rank is inferred that
maximizes the strength of any potcntial induction about relevant information. Rosch and col-
leagues ( 1 975) were able to show that for artifacts the generic-species leve! (hammer, gnitar)
indeed constituted sueh a privileged leve!. However, for biological kinds the privileged leve!
moved up to thc lifc form. Forexample, insteacl ofmaple ancl ttout, Rosch etal. (1976) found
that trec amiJish operated as basic-Ievel categories for American college students. Thus,
Roscll's hasic leve! for living kinds gcnerally corresponds to the Iife-form leve!, which is
superordinate to the generic-species leve!.
In contrnst to Rosch ami colleagucs, Coley et al. (1999) founcl that folk-genetic
categorics werc inductivcly privileged for both Itza' people and American undergraduate
studcnts, mcaning that both Itza' Maya and undergraduate students knew that inferences
l'rmn and to l'olk-gcnerie categories were consistently stronger than inferences from and to
n1on. general eategorics, and no weaker than inferences from and to more specific categories.
wil h the data providecl by Rosch, the data indicate that across-culture the genetic
species leve! is privileged in that people assume that it cardes most information. Knowing
about the im1mrtunce of this leve!, however, is clifferent from knowing the species in volved.
While the students studied by Roseh et al. knew about hammers and guitars, they were
not familiar with maple trees and trout. Thus Colcy et al. argue that it may be more accurate
to charactcrize cultural dit'lerences in terms of the degree to which knowledge and exped-
cnL'e l'Orrcspond than as diffcrences in the location of a single privileged leve! (Coley
et al. 1999).
Reasoning, Culture and Behavior
Wc llave identilietltwo main reasons to study how and what people think about living kinds.
1-'irst, category-hascd reasoning strategics might provide the building block for
within (ami to somc extent across) populations, if underlying are
sharcd. They allow us to addrcss un importan! puzzle in anthropology: t?e of cultural
moti e ls o ver time. Sccond, how people reason about the world has a d1rect unpact how
act u pon the worltl. We admit that much more data are needed to confhm these two pomts.
Still, wc think suffieient cvitlencc exists so that further inquiries are warranted. .
Experimental rcsearch can open new insights into processes. Fo.r example, m
thc task with lish expcrts from Wisconsin we asked partiCipants poss1ble
k d It , ' M nd two goups of 1111grants to the tropical
Jntcracttons. In a relatetl stutly we as e zct aya a .
1 t t , 1 plant interactions w1th respect to local
nunlorest ot northern Guatema a aJou <tmma- '
344 Chapter 20 Cognitive Studies in Ethnobiology
species (Atran et al. 2002). While we asked approximately HOO questions, wc still nnly cov-
ered a fraction of species or species-interactions that actually take place in thc tropical rain-
forest. It seems implausible to assume that people would lcarn thcsc irHemctions either
through direct observation or through a process of individual instruction ami memnrization.
How then does consensus emerge? Why do people agrce with one another'! Thesc ques-
tions address an importan! issuc of anthropological rcsearch: the cnu.:rgerH.:c of agrecmcnt
and consensus. They also address the stability of cultural nwdels across generations. We
have some evidence that CBI provides one mcchanism through which pcople gerwratc
new (explicit) knowledge. In the already mentioncd plant---anirnal intcraction task wc L'om-
pared Itza' Maya from two adult generations with n.:spccllo thcir responses. Wc found that
young Itza' Maya differed from thcir elders in some responses, yct still agrecd with onc
another. This suggested that agreement can emerge in thc absencc of dirct:t ohservation or
teaching/learning. Exploring the cases whcre young ltza' Maya agrccd, hut systcrnatically
differed from the responses of their elders, it beca me clear that young ltza' Maya use ccrtain
animal-plant interactions and extend thc responses lo interactions with similar speeies
involved. While on average this might providc a rcasonablc rcsponsL' (as similar animals
might affect similar plants in similar ways) we have some cases wherc it doesn't, openin!
a window into the underlying mcchanic.:s. For exarnple, older lt1.a' Maya makc a dillLr"Lnce
between the way howler monkeys and spidcr monkcys aiTcct lhc rarnon tree. llow lcr nlon-
keys help this tree species by swallowing thc en tire sccd ami dispersing it, whereas thc spider
monkeys hurt the tree by destroying the seed. Young ltza' Maya, hmwvcr, owrcx lL'tHI si rn-
larity across the two monkcy speeies ami attribute thc samc cl'f'ect on the ranHHl tree. Severa!
other examples mint in the same direction, supporting thc idea that young lt1.a' imlcLd use
their (shared) taxonomy to generate agrecd (albcit wrong) responses (scc Atran el al. 2002 l.
Thus taxonomic knowledge includes tacit or imJ/icitlowll'ltdgt tlwt is availahk lo produce
new knowledge when needed. Howcvcr, givcn expertise dil'f'erences as well as ehanges in
input conditions at the time of knowlcdgc formation, systematil' diffcreneL'S might he
expected (see Ross 2001, 2002a,b for an cxamplc of intcrgencrat ion al changc among thc
Lacanclon Maya of Chiapas).
Using the animal-plant interaction task describcd abovc, we wcrc intcrcsted in link in!
ecological centrality with values and bchavinr. Ecological ccntrality of' a plant was ddined
by the number of animals it helped. Plants thal would help many wcre rc.wnk-tl as
more central than plants that would help fcw or no animals. nHlnths alkr this task wc
conducted another set of experiments in which partkipants had lo rank-mder plants aeconl ..
ing to thcir importance. Three dil'ferent sccnurios wcrc ollercd: ( 1) imporlaflL'C to Ego: ( 2 l
importance to Gocl; ami (3) importance lo the l//'11.\', tril'kster-likc rores{ spirits who [lf'O[L'C[
the forest. Ego values ami valucs according to God cmrclutcd strongly with thc utilitarian
value of plants (construction, medicinal, f()()d etc.), as "CJod watchcs out lr his childrtn."
Thc rank-orcler the arux correlated with thc above .. descrihcd ccolo"L'td Cl'fllralitv
{""
index, indicating that in the cycs ofthe Itza' the arux actual! y protect thc spccies that are CL'fl
tral to the survival and wellbeing of the animals--rwt the humans! This makcs dcar that
once we factor out utilitarian valucs, dominan! in a socicty whcrc searcity of' rcsources is
endemic, ltza' Maya clearly have an agrccd-upon notion of ecologil'al ccntrality ol' s1weics.
Parallel to these cognitive stuclies wc conductcd counts in dil'll.rcnt plots o!' thc threc
groups that participated in the overall study (lt:w' Maya, as wcll as two migrant groups
ami found that ecological centrality predictcd Lhc l'requency of' trces found in tlwse plots
ltza' Maya only. This indicatcs that Itza' Maya not only know about l'crmalitv of
specitic species, but actually protect these spccics ami changc thc cnvironmcnt aLeurdi;1gly
(see Atran et al. 2002).
Reasoning: Expertise and Culture 345
We. could not .come np with a similar behavioral measure for our study among
Menommee and Euro-Amencan fishermen. However, we were able to explore the role of
stereo.types people hold about members of the other group, both with respect to fishermen
(Medm et al. 2?06b) and to hunters (Ross et al. 2007). Most of the stereotypes were held
by hunters and fishermen and directed against Menominee (although
also. s?me stereotypes about Euro-Americans). In this study we probed
Wlthm-group vu_natwns m to better understand more specific aspects of stereotyping.
!l:e Amencans who d1ffered most from Menominee experts' goals or ways of categor-
zmg showed more stereotyping than their peers, who tended to agree more with
Menommee on these matters. Initally, we thought that this might be an outcome of famili-
arity with individual Menominee, but social network data proved that this was not the case.
Apparently, observations are interpreted and evaluated through the culturallens ofthe obser-
ver. For example, a Euro-American hunter might see Menominee killing smaller bucks than
he himself would shoot, given his focus on trophy huntng. This "bad behavior," taken
together with the observation that there are fewer deer on the reservation (a fact that is
due to the lower ca!1'ying capacity of forests in general), might lead him to interpret
Menominee hunting behavior as detrimental to the deer population (see Ross et al. 2007).
Clearly then, cognitive models inform human behavior, fueling an already existing conflict
about natural resources (see Medin et al. 2006a).
Acquisition of Folkbiological Models: lnnate Models
and Cultural Knowledge
We ha ve mentioned the work of Susan Carey, who ascribed the development of folkbiolo-
gical thought to a later stage basically emerging as a conceptual change out of the presum-
ably innate folkpsychology (Carey 1985). The core of her finding is based on an inductive
reasoning task where children in her sample were more likely to ascribe attributes from
humans to animals than vice versa. Carey took this asymmetry as an indication that
young children (age < 10) use humans as a basis to reason about animals, for example,
that folkpsychology provides the framework for a developing folkbiology. However, for
anyone familiar with rural children around the world (including the USA), the urban children
participants' ignorance of basic biological facts is remarkable. The participants were all
urban children of Boston. We have discussed the role of expertise and the differences in cat-
egorization and reasoning between adult experts and novices. Such differences could influ-
ence child development. The trajectory described by Carey may describe only the
development of novice children with little or no exposure to the natural world. Kayoko
Inagaki ( 1990) has shown that kindergarten children (age < 5) raising goldfish, besides
acquiring more factual knowledge about goldfish, also attained conceptual knowledge
through which they could reasonably predict goldfish behaviormore accurately than children
who were not raising goldfish. Moreover, goldfish-raising children were able to predict reac-
tions of unfamiliar aquatic animals, such as frogs, using their knowledge about goldfish as
an analogy.
We conducted a study comparing both rural Euro-American and Menominee children
from Wisconsin with children residing in Boston (Ross et al. 2003). Using essentially the
same methods as Carey, we found two interesting results. First, rural children do not
show the same human-animal asymmetry as described by Carey for the Boston children.
As before, our Boston children show a remarkable lack of folkbiological knowledge-
they were at chance on whether trout are alive or not. Second, Menorninee and only they
346 Chapter 20 Cognitive Studies in Ethnobiology
showed clear examples of ecological reasoning (bee stings the bear, the bear eats honey)
leading to inferences from one species to another. This finding is especially striking as it par-
allels our findings with respect to expetts of the same two communities.
Knowledge elicited in our studies may be transmitted by explicit teaching, yet this is
only one possibility. Bang et al. (2007) asked Menominee and Euro-American children
and adults about the nature and frequency of their outdoor practices. They found that
Euro-Americans were much more likely to engage in practices in which nature is back-
grounded (e.g., playing baseball), and much less likely to engage in practices in which
nature is foregrounded (e.g., beny picking). There is independent evidence that what we
might call "psychological distance" affects cognitive processing in a variety of ways, includ-
ing inferences and attributions (see Trape et al. 2007).
A related set of observations comes from Unsworth (Undated manuscript). She asked
Euro-American and Menominee adults to describe the last encounter they had had with a
deer. In addition to the content of the stories she also recorded the gestures used. The two
groups did not differ in the overall likelihood of using gesture, but they showed a vety
large effect of perspective when gesturing about deer. Euro-American adults would
"place" the deer in some location (using their hands) but a significant proportion of
Menominee adults "became" the deer in gesture. They were reliably more likely to take
the deer's perspective in gesture than were Euro-American adults. More research is
needed, but results so far indicate that this line of research will pro ve fruitful.
Direct leaming is important in knowledge acquisition and severa! studies have been
dedicated to this issue (see Ross 2002a,b, 2004; Shenton and Ross, undated; Stross 1973;
Zarger 2002a,b; Zarger and Stepp 2004). Most of these studies have explored relations
between activities and cultural change (see also Nabhan and St. Antaine 1993). We urge
researchers to explore the effects that come with a decrease in expertise and the resulting
lirnitations in the power of generating cultural knowledge (see Atran and Medin 2008;
Atran et al. 2004; Shenton and Ross, undated). Knowing or not-knowing the name of a
species should not be the endpoint of our inquiry but a starting point. (See Wolff et al.
1999 for an interesting study on changes in the specificity of plant knowledge in England
based on a cross-time study using the online OED.) Research linking sophisticated cansen-
sus theory and social network analysis could explore channels of information jlow, content of
information, its impact on the individual mind, and cognitive processing.
WHAT IS CULTURE ANO HOW DO WE STUDV IT?
We have talked much about culture and feel it is now time to say a little more about what we
mean by it.
In our view, culture comprises both mental and public representations such as material
productions, speech, and other aspects ofbehavior in particular ecological contexts (see Ross
2004; Sperber 1996). What we refer to as culture or cultural concepts are those represen-
tations that are relatively stable and systematically distrlbuted in a population (Atran et al.
2005; Ross 2004; Ross and Medin, submitted). We see cultural processes as outcomes of
the complex interaction of individual cognitive processes interacting with each other and
with their social environment.
First, we avoid cross-cultural studies where "culture" is treated as an independent vari-
able, which is inherently circular unless the notion is unpacked into a series of ctimensions or
values that could in principie be manipulated. In this case, however, the notion of culture
lf
iJ.\
Rcfcrences 347
l'lliJll.\ and ,;u lw C'ulling diffcrcnees "cultural" does not add to
undei\t a m 1 i 111 .
Sntml. flm.:cs us lo pcreeive cognitive processes as situated
or l'lnlntftt'imam/t'lftlln.l attivitics rdcvanl toan individual's life). They tnke
pJn: w11hn .1 and context. Consequcntly, it reinforces a research
ot '\anunin in rdcvant contexts. ft may he useful for some pmposes
111 study in hi!lily artilil'ial contexts, but only with an eye toward real-world
idt'\ :llh '('.
Thitd. tlw. vvw 111 niltull' illuminatcs thc intcraction ofcognitive and social processes.
< 'ultmal mulns dmnge (within and across individuals) as well as
cha11gc. i 11 r ltl' ( 1 i , rihtH ion ( ,f .'i(K'cilic wnccpts within populations. To the extent that the for-
mati''" ami 111 of' on thc llux of inlbnnation, it is imp01tant to
widt'll um a11alysis pf n/il!'llltllinn to any kind of information input or cultural practice,
a1HI1H H , lt'll\ <Htexplkit ionnl con ten t. We focus on populations, and the dis-
ll ihut iun 'ti rqHl''>t'lltat tllls anH 1llg populutions, with the goal of expJaining patterns of agree-
tm'llt <llld 1t is importan! to explain both cultural stablityjresliency and
niltlllctl l'lttmgt' l'l iil., suhmillcd).
h 1\llth aud 1 inally. vbvng culture as a distribution o !'ideas and practices avoids essen-
ti;dilill.l'. \.ullu1v ur dl'lning itonly in tcnns of consensus or agreement. Instead oftreating
disarc't'lllcnt a.\ thc l'ailun: to timn or mnintain a consensus, it becomes central to our dis-
trihutiunal apll'll:idl (it is signnl, not noisc). However, cultural differences with respect to
call'J'.Il!taton are in tlwmsdves a cause for further cultural differences.
CONClUSION
This us hnL'k to thc qucstion: Is folkbiology a discrete domain? The correct answer
p;obahly he "yl!s and no." Cognitive scientists come to terms the
that folkbiology is fnncd around sorne potentl!llly
llowewr. f(,lkhiology also scems to be connected to by vutue of concepts
sul'l
1
as
11
(
1

1
., dtttlfl, und sick, und by the of documented
around thc world. Exploring such common produce mcreasmgly complex
<K\.ounts of' how cultural and cognitive structure mteract.
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