Seeing Cooperation or Competition: Ecological Interactions in Cultural Perspectives

Bethany L. Ojalehto*, Douglas L. Medin, William S. Horton, Salino G. Garcia, Estefano G. Kays

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Do cultural models facilitate particular ways of perceiving interactions in nature? We explore variability in folkecological principles of reasoning about interspecies interactions (specifically, competitive or cooperative). In two studies, Indigenous Panamanian Ngöbe and U.S. participants interpreted an illustrated, wordless nonfiction book about the hunting relationship between a coyote and badger. Across both studies, the majority of Ngöbe interpreted the hunting relationship as cooperative and the majority of U.S. participants as competitive. Study 2 showed that this pattern may reflect different beliefs about, and perhaps different awareness of, plausible interspecies interactions. Further probes suggest that these models of ecological interaction correlate with recognition of social agency (e.g., communication, morality) in nonhuman animals. We interpret our results in terms of cultural models of nature and nonhuman agency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)624-645
Number of pages22
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2015


  • Culture
  • Folkecology
  • Folkpsychology
  • Indigenous ecological knowledge
  • Nonhuman agency concepts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence

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