Atran, Scott; Sperber, Dan.
Learning without teaching: Its place in culture
Culture, schooling, and psychological development
Human development, vol. 4
Edited by Liliana Tolchinsky Landsmann
Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1991. 39-55.

Annual Workshop on Culture, Schooling and Psychological Development
4th, Jun, 1987, Tel Aviv U, Ramat Aviv, Israel.


Useful distinctions to understand the relationship between culture and cognition are presented; culturally transmitted knowledge has to be distinguished from knowledge learned through instruction; it is clear that most of what we know has been learned from others, although not necessarily taught, and since it is very problematic to establish the relationship between learning and teaching in general, the authors propose to move from learning in general to learning in specific domains... the authors dissent strongly with (Edward L.) Thorndike's connectivism and Piagetian arguments in favor of general mechanisms across domains; in their view, different concepts may require a different supporting environment and different mechanisms to be learned; some bodies of knowledge, like color classification or taxonomies of living things, are only marginally affected by social change, while others depend for their transmission on specific institutions... however, in the process of repeated social transmission, cultural programs may come to take forms which have a good fit to the natural capacities and constraints of the human brain; thus, when similar cultural forms are found in most societies around the world, there is a reason to search for psychological factors which could account for these similarities; the study of cultural transmission helps us to identify specific domains and to make assumptions regarding the initial state and regarding mental organization in general... (the authors') argument and field findings show that not only sensory modalities, but also nonsensory modalities, are specific cognitive domains; children would be assumed to come to the world equipped with an innate but specialized learning ability for which no manipulation of the learning situation (other than deprivation of relevant input) could fundamentally alter the content or development.


Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles