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date: 27 July 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The article provides an overview on the approaches used to study the relation between culture and cognition. Psychological universals can be defined as those traits, processes, dispositions, or functions that recur across cultures, with at least a subset of each population exhibiting the trait. The strongest test of the universality of a given psychological trait is to search for it across maximally disparate cultures because traits may recur across cultures due to cultural influences alone. One methodological concern, however, is that whether or not a trait is identified in different cultures will depend in part on how the trait is defined. Some traits may be psychological universals because they are homologies. A trait is generatively entrenched if its development is a necessary condition for the development of other traits. Most modifications of a generatively entrenched trait are selected against because they prevent the development of these other traits. The approximate number sense, evident in cultures as diverse as small-scale hunter-horticulturalist societies and modern, technologically complex societies, is also present in numerous animal species. A number of uniquely human psychological traits are also universal because their development has been canalized during the evolution of human cognition. Natural selection selects against development pathways that rely on specific environmental inputs when these environmental inputs vary, when variation in these environmental inputs cause the development of variable traits, and when there is a single optimally adaptive variant.

Keywords: culture, cognition, canalized traits, generatively entrenched homology, mental mechanisms

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