Cultural and experiential differences in the development of folkbiological induction

Norbert Ross*, Douglas Medin, John D. Coley, Scott Atran

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

176 Scopus citations


Careys (1985) 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 (Menominee) 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 (unlike urban children) gave clear evidence of ecological reasoning. These results show that both culture and expertise (exposure to nature) play a role in the development of folkbiological thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-47
Number of pages23
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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