Perspectives on culture and concepts

Bethany L. Ojalehto, Douglas L. Medin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The well-respected tradition of research on concepts uses cross-cultural comparisons to explore which aspects of conceptual behavior are universal versus culturally variable. This work continues, but it is being supplemented by intensified efforts to study how conceptual systems and cultural systems interact to modify and support each other. For example, cultural studies within the framework of domain specificity (e.g., folkphysics, folkpsychology, folkbiology) are beginning to query the domains themselves and offer alternative organizing principles (e.g., folksociology, folkecology). Findings highlight the multifaceted nature of both concepts and culture: Individuals adopt distinct conceptual construals in accordance with culturally infused systems such as language and discourse, knowledge and beliefs, and epistemological orientations. This picture complicates questions about cognitive universality or variability, suggesting that researchers may productively adopt a systems-level approach to conceptual organization and cultural epistemologies. Related implications for diversity in cognitive science are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-275
Number of pages27
JournalAnnual review of psychology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Conceptual domains
  • Conceptual organization
  • Cultural epistemologies
  • Folk theories
  • Language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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