Concepts and folk theories

Annu Rev Anthropol. 2011 Oct 1;40:379-398. doi: 10.1146/annurev-anthro-081309-145822. Epub 2011 Jun 29.


Human cognition is characterized by enormous variability and structured by universal psychological constraints. The focus of this chapter is on the development of knowledge acquisition because it provides important insight into how the mind interprets new information and constructs new ways of understanding. We propose that mental content can be productively approached by examining the intuitive causal explanatory "theories" that people construct to explain, interpret, and intervene on the world around them, including theories of mind, of biology, or of physics. A substantial amount of research in cognitive developmental psychology supports the integral role of intuitive theories in human learning and provides evidence that they structure, constrain, and guide the development of human cognition.