Culture and Cognitive Development

Susan Carey: Culture and cognitive development

Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning “to cultivate”) is a term that has various meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of “culture” in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. However, the word “culture” is most commonly used in three basic senses:
Excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities, also known as high culture
An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning
The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.

Cognitive development is a field of study in neuroscience and psychology focusing on a child’s development in terms of information processing, conceptual resources, perceptual skill, language learning, and other aspects of brain development and cognitive psychology. A large portion of research has gone into understanding how a child conceptualizes the world. Jean Piaget was a major force in the founding of this field, forming his “theory of cognitive development”. Many of his theoretical claims have since fallen out of favor. However, his description of the general tendencies of cognitive development (e.g., that it moves from being dependent on actions and perception in infancy to understanding of the more observable aspects of reality in childhood to capturing the underlying abstract rules and principles in adolescence is still generally acceptable. Moreover, many of the phenomena that he discovered, such as object permanence in infancy and the conservations in school age children, are real and still attract the interest of researchers. In the recent years alternative models have been advanced, including the neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development, which aim to integrate Piaget’s ideas which stood up well the test of time with more recent theorizing and methods in developmental and cognitive science.

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