DOUGLAS MEDIN is Professor and Chair of NWU's Psychology Department. He is a cognitive psychologist, whose main interests are: concepts and classification learning; mental models and category-based induction; effects of expertise on categorization and reasoning; decision making. His specific focus is on folkbiological categorization and reasoning. He is involved with Scott Atran in work on the relationships between understanding of the natural world (especially ecological knowledge) and environmentally-relevant behaviors (e.g. preservation or destruction of rainforest).
Although much has been written on universal principles of and bases for folk classification systems, previous work appears to have two limitations. One is that the focus has been on traditional cultures whose members have a great deal of contact with the natural world and rarely are people from technologically-oriented cultures included. The other problem is that in those cases where the latter group is included, the stimulus materials typically are pictures and converging measures are rarely employed.
In our work we examine not only how people in traditional and nontraditional cultures sort names of biological kinds into higher order categories, but also how they use those categories in reasoning tasks. My talk will focus on two subprojects. One is aimed at documenting changes in contact with or salience of the natural world and employs an analysis of quotations associated with the Oxford English dictionary from the 14th to the 20th century. The evidence of cultural devolution with respect to biological kinds is quite clear. The second subproject compares categorization and induction in a traditional and a technological culture and finds both universals and some striking cultural differences that are at least partially linked to relative amounts of knowledge or expertise.
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