Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sheep herders are not sheep???   posted by Razib @ 6/17/2008 10:44:00 AM

Ecocultural basis of cognition: Farmers and fishermen are more holistic than herders:
It has been proposed that social interdependence fosters holistic cognition, that is, a tendency to attend to the broad perceptual and cognitive field, rather than to a focal object and its properties, and a tendency to reason in terms of relationships and similarities, rather than rules and categories. This hypothesis has been supported mostly by demonstrations showing that East Asians, who are relatively interdependent, reason and perceive in a more holistic fashion than do Westerners. We examined holistic cognitive tendencies in attention, categorization, and reasoning in three types of communities that belong to the same national, geographic, ethnic, and linguistic regions and yet vary in their degree of social interdependence: farming, fishing, and herding communities in Turkey's eastern Black Sea region. As predicted, members of farming and fishing communities, which emphasize harmonious social interdependence, exhibited greater holistic tendencies than members of herding communities, which emphasize individual decision making and foster social independence. Our findings have implications for how ecocultural factors may have lasting consequences on important aspects of cognition.

I reviewed the Richard Nisbet's Geography of Thought 5 years ago. There seems to be a substantial literature on this topic in regards to different dominant modes of cognition. There is a great deal of overlap, and these tendencies seem to be highly plastic (e.g., you can "train" someone to think in an alien mode rather quickly), but on the margins the average differences between societies have likely mattered a great deal. Would anyone, for example, claim that the individualism of the Celts vis-a-vis the Romans in their fighting styles served them well? In contrast, total nomads (as opposed to farmers who practice a great deal of animal husbandry) can arguably leverage individual action against slow moving group formations to a far greater extent (e.g., as evidenced by the shift by the Romans themselves from fixed infantry based defenses toward mobile armies during the late Empire). And of course both When Histories Collide and Farewell to Alms seem to be making the case that particular economic and social systems have fostered customs and traits which are beneficial to the flourishing of capitalism.

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