Segall, Dasen, Berry, & Poortinga (1990). Everyday Cognition.

Segall, M. H., Dasen, P. R., Berry, J. W., & Poortinga, Y. H. (Eds.). (1990). Everyday Cognition. In Human behavior in global perspective: an introduction to cross-cultural psychology (pp. 186–209). Allyn and Bacon.

“Despite the care taken in experimental anthropology to be culturally sensitive, ironically, the cognitive processes that the experimental psychologist chooses to study (such as memory and syllogistic reasoning) derive from interests inherent in Western psychology.” (p 186)

“Ethnoscience tries to work emically (i.e., using a society’s own category system) to ascertain the cognitive principles by which the society’s members apprehend their world. Accordingly, the ethnoscientist tries to determine which aspects of the environment are considered important, what they are called, and how the local populace relate them to one another. In this manner, cognitive anthropology tries to discover how each culture creates order out of chaos.” (p 188)

[Murtaugh, 1985 …]

“The author concluded that in everyday situations, one has not only to solve problems but to frame them as well.” (p 196)

“In fact, most studies seem to indicate that schooling encourages the application of learned cognitive aptitudes to a variety of situations, even new or artificial ones. Thus, the data support a generalizability hypothesis.” (p 198)

“The lack of generalization from weaving to these test situations demonstrates the specificity of this kind of know-how, at least in cultural contexts in which innovation is not valued.” (p 200)

“Like Ginsburg (1977), who distinguishes strategies from principles, Hatano (1982) contrasts ‘procedural skill’ from ‘conceptual knowledge.'” (p 202)

“It thus appears that procedural-skill transfer is limited when unaccompanied by conceptual knowledge. Conceptual knowledge involves the mental representation of as procedure’s meaning, an understanding of why and how it works and some notion of what its variations might be. Transfer, and hence flexibility, adaptiveness and innovation, are possible only with this kind of understanding. Conceptual knowledge will be more easily acquired if external constraints change, if the situation demands procedural variations, if procedural skill is put into some doubt (either by the user or the user’s companion), and if the user is encouraged to think about the procedure rather than execute it as rapidly as possible.” (p 202)

“The culture provides the procedural model, but only rarely is this accompanied by an explanation for its use.” (p 202)

“As regards knowledge acquired in formal schooling, we tend to believe it automatically generalizable. Even if it is more generalizable than everyday cognition, we saw that it, too, has limits. Increasingly, school is seen as simply another context for learning, with specific cognitive outcomes.” (p 203)

“According to Greenfield (1984), a value system oriented toward the maintenance of traditional ways would be congruent with learning by observation, scaffolding, and shaping (learning processes to be defined and discussed below), in other words, errorless learning. Trial-and-error learning would be associated with a greater ease of transfer and would be  found in societies that value innovation more.” (p 203)

“Greenfield and Lave (1979) distinguished three types of learning processes: (1) trial and error, (2) shaping, and (3) scaffolding.” (p 204)


“This model illustrates Vygotsky’s concept of a ‘proximal zone of development.'” (p. 204)

“In learning to drive a car, trial-and-error learning would be hazardous, and so it is usually done by scaffolding (or through prolonged observation). By contrast, when learning to master a video game, no harm comes from proceeding by trial and error. Greenfield and Lauber (1988) found that students with little or no experience with video games significantly improved their ability to solve problems relating to the logic of electronic circuits after two and one-half hours of practice with a multistaged game, where new goals and procedures had to be discovered for each stage.” (p 205)

“Nevertheless, they are careful to point out that the use of street arithmetic in school would make only the beginning easier.” (p 207)

“The writers refer to Ogbu (1978) to suggest that the difficulties instead result from a lack of motivation stemming from socioeconomic discrimination; because these pupils know that they have no access to economic success, they are not motivated to make a full-fledged scholarly effort.” (p 208)

Selected references

  • Ginsburg, H. P. (1977). Some problems in the study of schooling and cognition. Quarterly Newsletter of the Institute of Comparative Human Development, 1(4), 7-10.
  • Greenfield, P. M. (1984). A theory of the teacher in the learning activities of everyday life. In B. Rogoff & J. Lave (Eds.), Everyday cognition (pp 117-138) Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Greenfield, P. M., & Lauber, B. A. (1988). Inductive discovery in the mastery and transfer of video game expertise. Unpublished manuscript.
  • Greenfield, P. M., & Lave, J. (1979). Aspects cogninitifs de l’éducation non scolaire. Recherche, Pédagogie et Culture, 8(44), 16-35. (Reprinted as Greenfield, P. M., & Lave, J. (1982). Cognitive aspects of informal education. In D. A. Wagner & H. W. Stevenson (Eds.), Cultural perspectives on child development (pp. 181-207) San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.)
  • Hatano, G. (1982). Cognitive consequences of practice in culture specific procedural skills. Quarterly Newsletter of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, 4(1), 15-18.
  • Murtaugh, M. (1985). The practice of arithmetic by American grocery shoppers. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 16, 186-192.
  • Ogbu, J. U. (1978). Minority education and caste. New York: Academic Press.
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