The development of biological reasoning across domains and cultures
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Folk biological knowledge is a core domain of human cognition. How does knowledge within the biological domain develop and what kind of flexibility exists in folk biological knowledge across cultures? My dissertation aims to address these questions by examining variation in children’s knowledge acquisition across several core domains of biological reasoning using developmental and cross-cultural methodologies. First, I examine how children, adolescents, and adults adjudicate between natural and supernatural explanations for the existentially arousing biological phenomena, illness, death, and human origins in a small-scale, subsistence population in Tanna, Vanuatu (Busch, Watson-Jones, & Legare, 2017). I then examine the development of ecological and taxonomic reasoning with children from an urban industrialized community (Austin, Texas) and a small-scale subsistence community (Tanna, Vanuatu) (Busch, Watson-Jones, & Legare, 2018). Finally, I examine how cultural variation affects the development of reasoning about the conservation of natural resources (Busch, Watson-Jones, & Legare, under review). Together, these studies provide insight into the formulation of biological knowledge across cultures and development. I propose that there is significant cognitive flexibility in the development of folk biological knowledge, however, there are similarities across cultures that suggest an underlying, innately specified system, which constrains learning in the biological domain.