“Inhabitants of the Earth”: Reasoning About Folkbiological Concepts in Wichi Children and Adults

Andrea S. Taverna*, Douglas L Medin, Sandra R Waxman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Across the world, people form folkbiological categories to capture their commonsense organization of the natural world. Structured in accordance with universal principles, folkbiological categories are also shaped by experience. Here we provide new evidence from the Wichi—an understudied indigenous community who live in the Chaco rainforest and speak their heritage language. A total of 44 Wichi (6- to 8-year-olds, 9- to 12-year-olds, adults) participated in an induction task designed to identify how broadly they attribute an invisible biological property (e.g., an internal organ) from 1 individual (either a human, nonhuman animal, or plant) to other humans, nonhuman animals, plants, natural kinds, and artifacts. Research Findings: These results (a) clarify the content of the Wichi’s categories and the words they use to describe them, (b) showcase the power of covert (unnamed) categories, and (c) fortify the view that human-centered reasoning is not a universal starting point for reasoning about nature. Practice or Policy: Implications of these findings for early science education are discussed. In particular, we discuss (a) how the Wichi’s construal of the natural world may be best integrated when they reach the (Western science–inspired) classroom and (b) how the current results bear on central issues in early science education more broadly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1109-1129
Number of pages21
JournalEarly Education and Development
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 16 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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