Cognition and
Psych 448B
Children’s categories about the biological world
Dialectical psychology
– Reasoning
– Emotions
Language and thought:
– Talking versus thinking
– Whorfian hypothesis
In-class assignment:
– Situational versus dispositional reasoning
How do Children Reason About the
Biological World?
 Young
Western children (under 7)
reason about biological phenomena
by applying what they know about
 From the ages 7 to 10 they go
through a cognitive shift and
understand that humans are one
animal among many (see Carey,
 Carey’s
Conclusion: Children think of
everything as having human
 Example:
– Humans have an omentum inside their
bodies. Will other animals also have an
omentum? YES
– Animals have an omentum. Will
humans have one? NO
How early does cultural exposure start?
Often developmental research is assumed
to speak to a universal human nature
because children are assumed to have had
only a little cultural exposure.
 Western urban children, who make up the
bulk of the developmental database, have
very little exposure to real animals, and
much exposure to toy or cartoon animals.
Early exposure to animals
Researchers studied children from two indigenous
tribes in the Americas: the Menominee from
Wisconsin and the Yukatek Maya from Mexico
(Atran et al., 2001; Coley et al., 1999).
Menominee and Mayan children did not show an
anthopocentric bias.
– Humans have an omentum inside their bodies. Will
other animals also have an omentum? YES
– Animals have an omentum. Will humans have one? YES
The tendency to think of humans as different
from other animals may not be innate
anthropocentrism. Instead, experiences with
animals matters.
Naïve Dialecticism
One kind of reasoning, that appears related to
holistic reasoning, may have come from China.
Chinese show a relative acceptance for
contradiction, which has been termed “naive
dialecticism” (Peng & Nisbett, 1999).
This is grounded in a view that everything is
connected and is constantly in flux. Symbolized
by the yin and the yang, this represents a belief
that the universe continually moves back from
one opposite pole to the other.
Tolerance for Contradiction
 According
to this view, “Belief A” is
connected to and is always changing
into its opposite, “Belief Not A.”
Hence, there can be no real logical
Formal logical reasoning
 In
contrast, Aristotle proposed a
different system for dealing with
 3 principles of formal logic
 Law
of Identity: A = A
 Law of Excluded Middle: A = B, or A = Not B, these
are the only two possibilities.
 Law of Noncontradiction: A = Not A.
According to this perspective, there cannot
be any contradiction.
Cultural differences in formal logic:
 Consider
the following two
A: A sociologist who surveyed college students from 100
universities claimed that there is a high correlation among
college female students between smoking and being
B: A biologist who studied nicotine addiction asserted that
heavy doses of nicotine often lead to becoming overweight.
How plausible is each argument? A>B
US and Chinese college students were asked to
evaluate contradictory pairs of arguments:
– Condition 1: Receive A OR B
– Condition 2: Receive A AND B
 In
Condition 2
(both arguments):
– Americans were
more convinced
that the stronger
argument was
– Chinese were less
convinced that the
stronger argument
was correct.
Dialectical Emotions
(Bagozzi et al., 1999)
 “In
the past month, what feelings did
you have?”
 Americans are more likely to feel
EITHER positive or negative, but not
both “I feel happy” or “I feel afraid”
 Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese are
more likely to feel BOTH positive or
– “I feel so happy that I am afraid”
Situational Differences in
Dialectical Emotions (Leu et al, 2008)
 US,
Japanese, and Chinese college
students read about another
student’s life:
– Positive Events: “I got the highest score
in the class.”
– Negative Events: “I interviewed for a
job and didn’t get it.”
 Euro-Americans
pursue pure
happiness, whereas East Asians
guard against pure happiness.
Situational Differences in
Dialectical Emotions (Leu et al, 2008)
 Cultural
differences in dialectical
emotions were only found in
positive situations.
 East Asians are likely to only
report feeling both positive and
negative feelings in positive
situations, not all the time,
across all situations.
Language and Thought
Talking and Thinking
In some ways, talking is an analytic
process. We can only specify one idea at
a time that are arranged in a sequence. It
is difficult to discuss holistic ideas in which
there are multiple connections that are
simultaneously relevant.
 If this is the case, holistic thinking should
be impaired more by saying one’s
thoughts out loud than would analytic
Facial recognition as a holistic task
Please describe
this face:
Facial recognition example
Please describe
this face:
Facial recognition example
People who
verbally describe a
face later do not
recognize the face
as well as others
who do not.
 Verbal descriptions
of faces do not
capture the whole
of the face (see Schooler
& Engstler-Schooler, 1990).
Speech across cultures:
Westerners appear to value the spoken word more than
East Asians:
– In Judeo-Christian beliefs the “Word” is sacred.
– The ancient Greeks viewed knowledge to emerge through the
spoken word.
– The First Amendment to the US constitution is to protect one’s
freedom of speech.
In contrast, East Asians appear to not emphasize speech
as a marker of thought:
– Lao Tzu said that “He who knows does not speak. He who
speaks does not know.”
– Various Eastern religions also emphasize silent meditation rather
than prayer.
– A Korean proverb states that “An empty cart makes more noise.”
Does talking interfere with thinking
among Asians? (Kim, 2002; 2008)
 Participants
were asked to solve the
Raven’s Matrices IQ test under
different conditions:
– Think Aloud Condition: 10 items silent,
10 items think out loud
– Articulation Suppression: 10 items
silent, 10 items while reciting ABCs
 Dependent
variable: how many
correct when talking?
Performance on Raven’s Matrices
Thinking aloud versus silence:
– Euro-American performance is unaffected.
– (US born) Asian-Americans perform worse when
they are thinking aloud.
Articulation suppression versus silence:
– Euro-Americans performance is worse when reciting
the alphabet.
– Asian-American performance is unaffected.
This suggests that Asian-American silent
thoughts are non-verbal on this task,
whereas Euro-Americans are thinking verbally
about the task even when silent.
Does Language Influence
Whorfian Hypothesis:
– Strong version: Language determines
thought. Without access to the appropriate
words people are unable to have certain kinds
of thoughts.
– Weak version: Language influences thought.
Having access to certain words influences the
kinds of thoughts that one has.
There remains a lively controversy
regarding the weaker version of the
hypothesis, with much recent evidence
coming out in favor of it.
Language and Color Perception
 Although
color exists along a
continuum, color terms themselves
are discrete.
 Color terms vary dramatically around
the world, although there are only a
limited number of patterns of color
terms in all languages.
Language and Color Perception
Number of Color Terms
Colors Represented
Black and White
Red, Black, and White
Red, Black, White, and Green or Yellow
Red, Black, White, Green AND Yellow
The above plus Blue
The above plus Brown
The above plus Purple, Pink, Gray, or Orange.
If people don’t have a word for green,
do they still see green the same way?
The Dugum Dani have 2 color terms (Rosch
Heider, 1972). The Dani could learn new color
terms that were closer to the prototypes of
English color labels, than they could learn new
color terms that were further from the English
 This research was enormously influential in
arguing that language is independent of thought.
 However, new research has been exploring
whether color terms affect perception of colors.
Array of Color Samples
Study: (Roberson et al., 2000; 2005)
Participants were shown triads of color chips and
were asked to identify which two chips were more
similar in color.
The chips that they chose from were equidistant
in terms of hue, however, on test trials two of the
chips crossed a boundary between two different
color terms.
The researchers compared how similarly people
viewed colors to be based on whether the two
chips crossed a color boundary in their own
language, or a color boundary in another
culture’s language.
Blue-Green Stimuli
Nol-Wor Stimuli
Dumbu-Burou Stimuli
based on
whether the
color of the
chips crossed
the boundaries
of the color
terms in their
own language,
not other
Numerical Cognition and Language
Much of numeric cognition is a cultural
invention - for the most part, people have
few innate math abilities. Most abilities
emerge with cultural learning.
 Some cultures do not have number terms
beyond 2. For example, the Piraha from
the Amazon have number terms that
correspond to 1, 2, and many.
 What happens when the Piraha are asked
to count beyond 3? (see Gordon, 2004).
The Piraha were asked to do
a series of matching tasks:
– Copy lines and match the
– How many nuts remain in a
can after seeing that some
are removed?
– Match a series of knocks.
In general, Piraha had an
approximate understanding
of magnitude (large versus
However, Piraha were only
accurate up to small
numbers, such as to 3 or 4.
The larger the number they
were asked to represent, the
larger was their error, however,
they did show a general sense
of approximate quantities.
They often would use their
fingers to aid their performance,
however, this was highly
inaccurate, even for numbers
smaller than five.
There is still much debate
whether these indigenous tribes
cannot represent numbers
because they don’t have the
number terms (a Whorfian
argument) or because they lack
the cultural learning.
Film Clips
In-class assignment
Understanding Other People’s
Analytic thinking involves understanding objects
by focusing on their component parts, whereas
holistic thinking involves understanding objects
by considering their relations with the context.
The same distinction can be applied to how
people come to understand other people.
Explaining people’s behaviors by attending to
their personal characteristics is known as a
dispositional attribution.
In contrast, explaining people’s behaviors by
attending to contextual variables is known as a
situational attribution.
Situation vs. Disposition
 Western
participants overly attend to
dispositional information compared
with situational information when
explaining the behavior of others,
even when the situational constraints
on the person’s behavior are
In one classic study, American students were
asked to evaluate an essay writer’s true attitudes
by reading an essay that they had written which
suported or criticized Fidel Castro (Jones &
Harris, 1967).
Participants naturally assumed that the person
who wrote the pro-Castro essay had more
positive feelings towards Castro than the person
who wrote the anti-Castro essay.
In other conditions, participants were told of
some significant situational constraints on the
essay-writers behaviors.
– Participants were told that the authors had been
assigned their positions (i.e., either pro-Castro or antiCastro).
– Participants watched as another subject was given a
pre-written essay (either pro-Castro or anti-Castro), and
was asked to read it out loud.
In both conditions, Western participants
neglected situational information in favor of
dispositional information, assuming that the
essays were reflective of the subject’s true
One study explored people’s attributions in
India and the US (Miller, 1984).
 Participants, who ranged in age from 8
year-olds to adults, read a number of
scenarios where a target person did
something, and then offered explanations
for the target person’s behaviors.
 Their explanations were coded for being
either dispositional or situational.
American 8 year-olds and
Indian 8 year-olds gave
similar attributions.
As Americans got older,
they made more and more
dispositional attributions,
whereas their situational
attributions didn’t change.
American adults showed
evidence for the
fundamental attribution
As Indians got older, they
made more situational
attributions, whereas their
dispositional attributions
didn’t change. Indian
adults showed evidence for
a reverse fundamental
attribution error.
UW Suicide in Red Square
“Nov. 6, 2008 “ UW News
Man who committed suicide in Red Square identified
The person who committed suicide in Red Square Oct. 30 has
been identified as In Soo Chun, 61.
At about 1 p.m. Chun poured gasoline over his body and set it on
fire. Students and other onlookers responded immediately, trying
to smother the flames with their clothing, water and fire
extinguishers from nearby buildings.
Chun had been a member of the UW custodial staff since
December, 2005. He immigrated to America from Korea in 1977
and became a naturalized citizen in 1982. His employment with
the University ended in August. On several occasions near the end
of his time as an employee, Chun was advised that counseling
assistance was available through CareLink, the UW's employee
assistance program, but as far as the University knows, he did not
avail himself of such services.”
VA Tech Shooting
“The Virginia Tech massacre was a school shooting
consisting of two separate attacks approximately two hours
apart on April 16, 2007, that took place on the campus of
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The
perpetrator, Seung-Hui Cho, killed 32 people and wounded
many others before committing suicide.
“Cho, a senior English major at Virginia Tech, had been
diagnosed with and was treated for a severe anxiety
disorder in middle school and continued receiving therapy
and special education support until his junior year of high
school. While in college in 2005, Cho had been accused of
stalking two female students and was declared mentally ill
by a Virginia special justice. At least one professor had
asked him to seek counseling.”
In-class assignment
 Give
situational accounts for:
– Red Square Suicide (at least 1
– VA Tech Massacre (at least 1 sentence)
 Do
not refer to mental illness or
personality traits; instead, refer to
extreme situational pressures that
may have caused the tragic events.

Cognition and Perception