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December 2019

Mem Cognit. 1992 Nov; 20(6): 655-62.

Supernatural beliefs, natural kinds, and conceptual structure.

Walker SJ.

Department of Psychology, Indiana University, Bloomington 47405.

This article presents cross-cultural evidence in support of the notion that adults' natural kind concepts are theory based but may be informed by knowledge/belief systems other than the biological. Three groups of subjects from western Nigeria--rural, urban, and elite--participated in the study. Subjects heard stories describing alterations of appearance; that is, one natural kind was made to resemble another in both ritual and nonritual contexts. Subjects then were required to judge the identity of the altered item and to give an explanation for the category judgment. It was predicted that subjects would make more nonpreservation-of-identity category judgments supported by supernatural explanations in the ritual contexts and that subjects' use of supernatural explanations would reflect the extent of their engagement with the supernatural. The first prediction was borne out; the second prediction was only partially supported. Discussion of the results emphasizes the importance of exploring the role of sociocultural factors in conceptual structure.


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