Hirschfeld, Lawrence A. and Susan A. Gelman (eds.)
Mapping the mind: Domain specificity in cognition and culture
New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1994
Preface  |  EP index  |  CogWeb
From the Preface  Contents
This volume presents research and theoretical discussion on domain specificity in human thought. "Domain specificity" is the idea that all concepts are not equal, and that the structure of knowledge is different in important ways across distinct content areas. The notion of domain specificity has received much attention in recent years, but surprisingly it has not yet been given a unified treatment. A sense of how widely this concept has been discussed can be seen by viewing the range of disciplines represented in this volume: philosophy, psycholinguistics, linguistics, cultural anthropology, biological anthropology, developmental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and education.
Contents  top

List of contributors


Part I: Overview

Part II: The origins of domain knowledge: Biology and evolution Part III: The origins of domain knowledge: Conceptual approaches Part IV: Are domains theories? Part V: Domains across cultures and languages Part VI: Implications for education Author index
Subject index

Chapter Abstracts
Sperber, Dan. The modularity of thought and the epidemiology of representations. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 39-67.

Abstract: Controversies have focused on the thesis that perceptual and linguistic decoding processes are modular much more than on the alleged nonmodularity of thought. However, thought processes might be modular too. Sperber articulates a modular view of human thought with the naturalistic view of human culture that he has been developing under the label "epidemiology of representations." He show how, contrary to the received view, organisms endowed with truly modular minds might engender truly diverse cultures.

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Caramazza, Alfonso, Argye Hillis, and Elwyn C. Leek. The organization of lexical knowledge in the brain: Evidence from category- and modality-specific deficits. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 68-84.
Abstract: How is lexical knowledge organized in the brain? The authors argue that evidence from the analysis of the performance of brain-damaged Subjects (34-67 yr olds) provides the basis for far-reaching speculations, not only about the functional organization of lexical knowledge, but also about the relation between lexical knowledge and the brain. They review evidence suggesting that distinctions among different aspects of lexical knowledge -- for example, lexical form and semantic and grammatical categories -- are most likely subserved by distinct neuroanatomical structures. The evidence takes the form of selective impairments affecting restricted domains of knowledge-semantic and grammatical categories.
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Cosmides, Leda and John Tooby. Origins of domain specificity: The evolution of functional organization. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 85-116.

Abstract: By establishing that domain-specific machinery is necessary to explain human cognitive performance, psychologists who advocate modular or domain-specific approaches have found themselves in an unanticipated situation. Quite unexpectedly, cognitive psychologists find their field intimately connected to evolutionary functionalist research. The proliferating connections tying together the cognitive and evolutionary communities promise to transform both fields, with each supplying necessary principles, methods, and a species of rigor that the other lacks. The origins of domain specificity can be located in the evolutionary process, in the selective advantages conferred by functional design in adaptive problem solving.

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Leslie, Alan M. ToMM, ToBy, and Agency: Core architecture and domain specificity. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 119-148.

Abstract: Leslie proposes that the notion of Agency emerges from domain-specific learning and reflects properties of core architecture. In exploring the relationship between core architecture and our ability to understand the behavior of Agents, he postulates two processing devices: ToBY (Theory of Body mechanism), the seat of the infant's theory of physical bodies, and ToMM (the Theory of Mind Mechanism), the seat of the child's "theory of mind." Leslie presents a three-level theory of our understanding of Agency. Each of these levels corresponds to an information processing subsystem specialized for making certain kinds of information explicit:  mechanical properties of Agents, Agents and the goal-directed actions they produce, and the mental states of Agents and their role in producing behavior.

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Premack, David and Ann James Premack. Moral belief: Form versus content. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 149-168.

Abstract: The Premacks attribute a moral domain to the infant and presents a model of the domain. They show how the primitives of the domain can provide an invariant form in which to express the diverse moral beliefs of different cultures. They raise the question of what is the source of these distinctly moral concepts -- of "right," "wrong," "ought," "responsibility," and the like and trace their origin to "knowledge" or expectancies of the human infant. The resulting model attributes to the infant capacities that concern what one individual expects of another. They discuss how the concepts of power, group, and possession affect those expectancies.

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Carey, Susan and Elizabeth Spelke. Domain-specific knowledge and conceptual change. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 169-200.

Abstract: Spelke argues that human reasoning is guided by a collection of innate domain-specific systems of knowledge. There are at least three domains: physics, psychology, and number. Each system is characterized by a set of core principles that define the entities covered by the domain and support reasoning about those entities. She sketches one potential mechanism underlying conceptual change and raises the question of a central empirical problem for cognitive anthropology: to what extent is there cross-cultural universality in the domains covered by innate systems of knowledge?

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Hirschfeld, Lawrence A. Is the acquisition of social categories based on domain-specific competence or on knowledge transfer? Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 201-233.

Abstract: Hirschfeld presents evidence and arguments suggesting that the acquisition of social category does not depend on a transfer from the biological domain and questions its constitutive role. Social categories appear to fall within the scope of a domain-specific competence, and are not brought into existence by mere analogical transfer. This issue is relevant both to classical concerns of anthropologists and to contemporary concerns of developmentalists working on knowledge transfer. Further insights from anthropology and psychology may be needed if we are to advance our understanding of this shared problem.

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Keil, Frank C. The birth and nurturance of concepts by domains: The origins of concepts of living things. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 234-254.

Abstract: The revival of interest in domains of cognition, especially in the contexts of cross-cultural and developmental studies, is evidence of a new awareness of how different sorts of concepts and belief systems might become tailored to particular kinds of lawful regularities in our physical and socal worlds. To make much progress, however, this new emphasis requires more precise distinctions between types of domains and better descriptions of the ways in which each type might vary across development and cultures. Keil examines different sorts of domains and considers some distinctions and their implications for questions concerning the origins of concepts. His focus is on the emergence of biological thought, since concepts of living things may offer an especially clear illustration of how domains might be involved in the origins of more specific concepts, and conversely of how specific concepts become interwined within larger belief systems.

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Gopnik, Alison and Henry M.Wellman. The theory theory. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 257-293.

Abstract: This chapter addresses the development of a single domain: everyday understanding of the mind in children, and suggests that this development is best understood as the formulation of a succession of naive theories. This "theory theory" can help to characterize cognitive domains more generally and to explain domain-specific development. The authors also join company with a number of recent discussions drawing parallels between theory change in science and cognitive development.

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Harris, Paul L. Thinking by children and scientists: False analogies and neglected similarities. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 294-315.

Abstract: Harris distinguishes among three types of cognitive activity: the cognitive processes of children (age ranges: 2-5 yr olds); the cognitive processes of individual scientists, and the collective, public enterprise that constitutes the history of science. He proposes that when we focus on individual scientists rather than the organized discipline within which they work, there are some neglected similarities between the way that they think and the way that young children think. This suggests that children (and adults) do not truly subscribe to wide-ranging theoretical principles but engage in a process of imaginative enactment or simulation. He discusses this proposal in terms of folk physics and folk psychology.

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Atran, Scott. Core domains versus scientific theories: Evidence from systematics and Itza-Maya folkbiology. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 316-340.

Abstract: The author examines the nature of specific cognitive domains common to ordinary folk, and  the relationship between the structure of the most basic of these commonsense domains to the structure of corresponding scientific theories. For one such domain -- folk biology -- conceptual categories exhibit high internal cultural consensus, and significant cross-cultural correlation with scientific taxonomies. Panhuman and domain-specific taxonomic structure may be embedded in different belief systems and may be distinctly interpreted at various levels of expertise. Based on a comparative analysis of Itza-Maya folkbiology and corresponding aspects of systematics (the branch of biology that deals with the classification of animals and plants), he assesses relative agreement on judgments of taxonomic relatedness across: (a) a sample of Itza informants, (b) Itza men and Itza women, and (c) the Itza and (Western) science. The measures are also used to relate taxonomic similarity judgments to levels of: (d) agreement among Itza informants on inferences concerning reproduction, and (e) expertise among Itza men and women.

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Gelman, Susan A., John D. Coley, and Gail M. Gottfried. Essentialist beliefs in children: The acquisition of concepts and theories. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 341-365.

Abstract: The authors examine theory-like beliefs by discussing the unobservable constructs children invoke to account for biological properties and events. They focus on what D. Medin (1989; Medin and Ortony, 1989) calls "psychological essentialism" and review evidence for three of the more direct kinds of evidence for essentialism: appeal to invisible causal mechanisms (responses from 4 yr olds), assumption of innate potential (responses from preschool children), and maintenance of identity over superficial transformations. They consider alternative accounts of these data, and conclude that children appeal to theory-like entities that may derive from domain-general expectations.

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Gelman, Rochel and Kimberly Brenneman. First principles can support both universal and culture-specific learning about number and music. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 369-390.

Abstract: The authors offer a definition of a domain and a description of the innate principles that guide knowledge acquisition within certain domains. They review why an assumption of some innate knowledge in a domain does not rule out the need for learning in this domain, and provide the foundation on which to build the thesis that learning about both number and music is facilitated, but not guaranteed, by the presence of skeletal, domain-specific principles. They discuss the account of principle-first learning and return to the idea that innateness and cultural creativity are not opposites and indeed work together to guide the acquisition of human knowledge.

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Boyer, Pascal. Cognitive constraints on cultural representations: Natural ontologies and religious ideas. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 391-411.

Abstract: The point of a cognitive approach to cultural representations is to put forward a series of causal hypotheses in order to account for certain features of cultural phenomena and show to what extent this framework can help reformulate classical anthropological problems. It aims to dispel certain conceptual ambiguities that are pervasive in the anthropological literature, notably as concerns (1) the subjective "unnaturalness" of religious assumptions, (2) their cognitive diversity, and (3) the extent to which they depend on cultural transmission. Boyer argues that if cognitive hypotheses are relevant in the explanation of religious ideas, then other aspects of cultural representations will be a fortiori amenable to such a description.

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Vosniadou, Stella. Universal and culture-specific properties of children's mental models of the earth. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 412-430.

Abstract: Develops some ideas about domain specificity and cultural knowledge based on a series of studies of children's concept of the earth. The subjects are kindergarten-6th graders from the US, Samoa, Greece, and India. The authors argue that the concept of the earth is originally embedded within a naive theory of physics and is constrained by certain entrenched presuppositions that apply to physical objects in general. They describe some of the research providing the empirical evidence for this argument, starting with a general discussion of the theoretical framework guiding their choice of methodology, and proceed with a description of some of the results of the specific studies they have undertaken.

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Wierzbicka, Anna. Cognitive domains and the structure of the lexicon: The case of emotions. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 431-452.

Abstract: Examines how basic everyday or "foundational" knowledge is stored and organized in the human mind. By studying the structure of the lexicon, researchers can discover what domains are and how they are organized. Discusses human emotion and concepts as cognitive domains with a specific semantic structure.

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Strauss, Sidney and Tamar Shilony. Teachers' models of children's minds and learning. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 455-473.

Abstract: Do teachers have mental models of the structure of children's minds, of how the mind works when learning takes place, and of the roles of teaching in fostering that learning? We are interested in teacher education, and reasoned that studying teachers' understanding of the mind might be a window into what happens to what has been claimed to be children's models of the mind. We study two contrasting groups of high school teachers: (1) experienced versus novice teachers and (2) teachers of different subject matter -- the sciences and the humanities.

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Resnick, Lauren B. Situated rationalism: Biological and social preparation for learning. Hirschfeld & Gelman (1994), pp. 474-493.

Abstract: (from the chapter) examine the relations between 2 lines of thinking (biological and social preparation for learning), each commanding increasing attention among psychologists and social scientists, that appear to be contradictory; argue ...that the rationalist and situationist views ...share important epistemological assumptions and can -- perhaps must -- be combined to provide a theory of cognitive development and functioning; develop a view of learning and development that (the author calls) situated rationalism, illustrate it with some examples from mathematics and science learning, and consider its implications for education.


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