Cognitive anthropology

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Cognitive anthropology is an approach within cultural anthropology and biological anthropology in which scholars seek to explain patterns of shared knowledge, cultural innovation, and transmission over time and space using the methods and theories of the cognitive sciences (especially experimental psychology and cognitive psychology) often through close collaboration with historians, ethnographers, archaeologists, linguists, musicologists and other specialists engaged in the description and interpretation of cultural forms. Cognitive anthropology is concerned with what people from different groups know and how that implicit knowledge, in the sense of what they think subconsciously, changes the way people perceive and relate to the world around them.[1]


Cognitive anthropology has strong ties to ethnoscience and linguistics.


Cognitive anthropology studies a range of domains including folk taxonomies, the interaction of language and thought, and cultural models.[2]

From a linguistics stand-point, cognitive anthropology uses language as the doorway to study cognition.[3] Its general goal is to break language down to find commonalities in different cultures and the ways people perceive the world.[4] Linguistic study of cognitive anthropology may be broken down into three subfields: semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics.


In contrast to traditional ethnographic methods in cultural anthropology, cognitive anthropology primarily uses quantitative methodologies in order to study culture. Because of the field's interest in determining shared knowledge, consensus analysis has been used as its most widely used statistical measure.[5] [6]

One of the techniques used is Cultural Network Analysis, the drawing of networks of interrelated ideas that are widely shared among members of a population.[7] Recently there has been some interchange between cognitive anthropologists and those working in artificial intelligence.[8]

Relation with cognitive science[edit]

Anthropology is one of six fields which contributed to the founding of cognitive science. However, anthropology has been criticised for being detached from cognitive science.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ D'Andrade (1995)
  2. ^ D'Andrade (1995)
  3. ^ Quinn (2005)
  4. ^ Colby, Fernandez & Kronenfeld (1981)
  5. ^ D'Andrade (1995)
  6. ^ DeMunck, Victor (2009). Research Design and Methods for Studying Cultures. Lanham: AltaMira Press. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  7. ^ Sieck (2010)
  8. ^ Gomm (2009:?)
  9. ^ Bender, Andrea; Hutchins, Edwin; Medin, Douglas (8 March 2010). "Anthropology in Cognitive Science". Topics in Cognitive Science. 2 (3): 374–385. doi:10.1111/j.1756-8765.2010.01082.x. PMID 25163866.


  • Colby, Benjamin; Fernandez, James W.; Kronenfeld, David B. (1981). Toward a convergence of cognitive and symbolic anthropology. New York: Blackwell Publishing.
  • D'Andrade, R. (1995), The Development of Cognitive Anthropology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Gomm, Roger (2009). Key concepts in social research methods. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 978-0-230-21499-6.
  • Quinn, N. (2005), Finding Culture in Talk: A Collection of Methods, New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Further reading[edit]

  • Regnier, D. & Astuti, R., eds. (2015). Special issue: The cognitive challenge. Social Anthropology 23, vol. 2.
  • Sieck, W. R. (2010). Cultural network analysis: Method and application. In D. Schmorrow & D. Nicholson (Eds.), Advances in Cross-Cultural Decision Making, CRC Press / Taylor & Francis, Ltd.