Folkbiology of freshwater fish

Douglas L. Medin*, Norbert O. Ross, Scott Atran, Douglas Cox, John Coley, Julia B. Proffitt, Sergey Blok

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Cross-cultural comparisons of categorization often confound cultural factors with expertise. This paper reports four experiments on the conceptual behavior of Native American and majority-culture fish experts. The two groups live in the same general area and engage in essentially the same set of fishing-related behaviors. Nonetheless, cultural differences were consistently observed. Majority-culture fish experts tended to sort fish into taxonomic and goal-related categories. They also showed an influence of goals on probes of ecological relations, tending to answer in terms of relations involving adult fish. Native American fish experts, in contrast, were more likely to sort ecologically. They were also more likely to see positive and reciprocal ecological relations, tending to answer in terms of relations involving the full life cycle of fish. Further experiments support the view that the cultural differences do not reflect different knowledge bases but rather differences in the organization and accessibility of knowledge. At a minimum the results suggest that similar activities within a well-structured domain do not necessarily lead to common conceptualizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-273
Number of pages37
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2006


  • Ecology
  • Folkbiology
  • Native American
  • Taxonomic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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