Thinking across Cultures

By Donald M. Topping; Doris C. Crowell et al. | Go to book overview

information-processing edge enjoyed by the former group would become apparent. At the same time, I would argue that, in general, members of hunting- and-gathering societies ought to process information more efficiently than members of horticultural societies and even perhaps more efficiently than uneducated peoples in the developed countries. Indeed, there is at least some research in the cross-cultural literature which can be read as confirming this argument ( Berry, 1966, 1971; Dasen, 1974, 1975; Lancy, 1983). This is because hunting and gathering is a more intellectually demanding way of life than simple slash and burn horticulture. These people simply have to know more, and the consequences for not knowing, or forgetting, something vital are often disastrous.

This chapter can be read as an exploratory attempt to reexamine some of the literature pertinent to an understanding of primitive thought. I have suggested that applying tests of information-processing efficiency to unschooled villagers calls forth "every-day" cognitive strategies, which are relatively inefficient. Children living in the village who have reached a 4th- or 5th-grade level of literacy and numeracy act more like experts when confronted with the same tests: they employ more efficient strategies to remember and solve problems. We should not conclude, however, that advanced information- processing strategies cooccur only with western-style public schooling. I have described several situations in precontact hunting-and-gathering societies where one could build a strong prima facie case for the need for such strategies. I hope that my modest effort to apply a functional analysis to this body of work will lead others interested in studying and/or teaching intelligent behavior to consider this material for its potential contribution to their work.


ACKNOWLEDGMENT

I would like to thank the editors of this volume as well as Courtney Cazden, Patricia Greenfield and members of the Family Home Evening Seminar group at Utah State University for their extremely helpful and constructive comments on earlier drafts of this chapter.


REFERENCES

Anzai Y., & Simon H. A. ( 1979). "The theory of learning by doing". Psychological Review, 86, 124-140.

Balikci A. ( 1968). The Netsilik Eskimo: Adaptive process. In R. B. Lee & I. DeVore (Eds.), Man the hunter (pp. 78-82). Chicago: Aldine.

Beilin H. ( 1984). The new functionalism and Piaget's program. In E. K. Skolnich (Ed.), New trends in conceptual representation (pp. 3-40). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Berry J. W. ( 1966). "Temne and Eskimo perceptual skills". International Journal of Psychology, 1, 207-229.

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