Folkecology and commons management in the Maya lowlands

Scott Atran*, Douglas Medin, Norbert Ross, Elizabeth Lynch, John Coley, Edilberto Ucan Ek', Valentina Vapnarsky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


Three groups living off the same rainforest habitat manifest strikingly distinct behaviors, cognitions, and social relationships relative to the forest. Only the area's last native Maya reveal systematic awareness of ecological complexity involving animals, plants, and people and practices clearly favoring forest regeneration. Spanish-speaking immigrants prove closer to native Maya in thought, action, and social networking than do immigrant Maya. There is no overriding 'local,' 'Indian,' or 'immigrant' relationship to the environment. Results indicate that exclusive concern with rational self-interest and institutional constraints do not sufficiently account for commons behavior and that cultural patterning of cognition and access to relevant information are significant predictors. Unlike traditional accounts of relations between culture, cognition, and behavior, the models offered are not synthetic interpretations of people's thoughts and behaviors but are emergent cultural patterns derived statistically from measurements of individual cognitions and behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7598-7603
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jun 22 1999


  • Cognitive models
  • Commons tragedy
  • Culture consensus
  • Social networks
  • Sustainable agroforestry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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