J. Linaza Autónoma University of Madrid
The chapter by Furnham gives a considerable list of the different ways in which psychologists have studied human understanding of politics and economics. In this chapter he emphasizes the difficulties and frustrations one is bound to find in trying to reach conclusions from these different approaches and methodologies. One experiences the same feelings when trying to comment on papers and studies based on quite different methodologies, assumptions, and subjects. But some general points seem to come out of this section.
Furnham proposed the comparison between lay and academic theories in this field as a sensible path to follow. But the reader may not be satisfied with Furnham's claim of lay knowledge as a discipline on its own. Further, from his review of a long list of studies, he concludes that the heterogeneity of research aims, methods, and topics makes it difficult to compare the results obtained and to draw clear conclusions.
About the more specific question of cognitive development and the understanding of social concepts, Furnham distinguishes between five types of research on children's development: (a) attitudes, values, and attributions; (b) knowledge of society (content on economic and political issues); (c) problems of reasoning and understanding in these domains; (d) questions of change and development; and (e) process of children's socialization and its relation to this type of knowledge.
From his results and some other studies it seems possible to emphasize the tendency of human beings to stress psychological factors as a cause for explanation than social or economic ones. People perform as psychologists rather than sociologists in dealing with these social and historical domains.
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Publication information: Book title: Cognitive and Instructional Processes in History and the Social Sciences. Contributors: Mario Carretero - Editor, James F. Voss - Editor. Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Place of publication: Hillsdale, NJ. Publication year: 1994. Page number: 123.