Cultural mosaics and mental models of nature

Megan Bang, Douglas L. Medin*, Scott Atran

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

186 Scopus citations


For much of their history, the relationship between anthropology and psychology has been well captured by Robert Frost's poem, "Mending Wall," which ends with the ironic line, "good fences make good neighbors." The congenial fence was that anthropology studied what people think and psychology studied how people think. Recent research, however, shows that content and process cannot be neatly segregated, because cultural differences in what people think affect how people think. To achieve a deeper understanding of the relation between process and content, research must integrate the methodological insights from both anthropology and psychology. We review previous research and describe new studies in the domain of folk biology which examine the cognitive consequences of different conceptualizations of nature and the place of humans within it. The focus is on cultural differences in framework theories (epistemological orientations) among Native Americans (Menominee) and European American children and adults living in close proximity in rural Wisconsin. Our results show that epistemological orientations affect memory organization, ecological reasoning, and the perceived role of humans in nature. This research also demonstrates that cultural differences in framework theories have implications for understanding intergroup conflict over natural resources and are relevant to efforts to improve science learning, especially among Native American children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13868-13874
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number35
StatePublished - Aug 28 2007


  • Folkbiology
  • Mental models
  • Native American
  • Science education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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