The cultural mind: Environmental decision making and cultural modeling within and across populations

Scott Atran*, Douglas L. Medin, Norbert O. Ross

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

206 Scopus citations


This article describes cross-cultural research on the relation between how people conceptualize nature and how they act in it. Mental models of nature differ dramatically among populations living in the same area and engaged in similar activities. This has novel implications for environmental decision making and management, including commons problems. The research offers a distinct perspective on cultural modeling and a unified approach to studies of culture and cognition. The authors argue that cultural transmission and formation consist primarily not in shared rules or norms but in complex distributions of causally connected representations across minds interacting with the environment. The cultural stability and diversity of these representations often derive from rich, biologically prepared mental mechanisms that limit variation to readily transmissible psychological forms. This framework addresses several methodological issues, such as limitations on conceiving culture to be a well-defined system, bounded entity, independent variable, or an internalized component of minds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)744-776
Number of pages33
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2005


  • Cultural modeling
  • Decision making
  • Environmental management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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