This week’s studies: Domains, counterintuitiveness, and reading comprehension

 book open pages library books knowledge reading, by ksheltonTo keep myself accountable, I’m posting my weekly readings.  The deal is: at least seven articles or chapters a week, no excuses.This will also double as a nice record of book and article references, and a trail for those interested in the topics of Evolutionary Religious Studies, Cognitive Science of Religion, and Culture and Cognition.This week’s studies


Journal of Cognition and Culture – sifted through ten years of this journal, reading abstracts and downloading all articles relevant to my research interests, since I currently have access as a university student


Kinzler, K. D., and Spelke, E. S.  (2007).  “Core systems in human cognition.”  Progress in Brain Research, 164.

– This article gives a good summary of the “signature limits” of 4 core systems (inanimate objects, animate objects, numbers, and geometry) plus a possible fifth (social partners).  It does not discuss why other systems were excluded, however, such as biology or language.


Johnson, C. V. M., Kelly, S. W., and Bishop, P.  (2010).  “Measuring the Mnemonic Advantage of Counter-intuitive and Counter-schematic Concepts.”  Journal of Cognition and Culture, 10(109-121).

– Study confirms Boyer’s MCI hypothesis, but only for delayed recall.  It also uses items removed from a narrative context (addressing objections by Upal and Gonce), but also greater than 2-word lists (addressing objections by Norenzayan and Atran).  The 2-word lists are considered to be too ambiguous in meaning (weak “public representations”) to be memorable.  Here, lists of 23-word items are used.  The study also attempts to implement a more precise method of counting counterintuitiveness developed by Barrett (2008), but IMO fails miserably: 4 out of 10 of their items seem to me like they should be counted differently.  This underscores this line of research’s failure to adequately address the problem of subjectivity in parsing counterintuitiveness.


Keil, F. C.  “The Birth and Nurturance of Concepts by Domains: The Origins of Concepts of Living Things.”  In: Hirschfeld, L. A. and Gelman, S. A., eds.  Mapping the Mind: Domain Specificity in Cognition and CultureCambridge: Cambridge University Press.

– Keil presents evidence for a third core domain beyond physics and psychology: biology.  Actually, what he argues for are three cognitive stances: the mechanical (physics), intentional (psychology), and teleological (biology).  One thing I don’t understand about Keil’s work as well as that of others’ is the use of data from children of schooling age (usually elementary ages 4-10).  It seems to me the cognitive changes detected could be the result of schooling rather than the developmental process of evolved cognitive mechanisms.  Neither Keil nor other authors ever seem to address this question.


Magliano, J. P., Taylor, H. A., and Kim, H. J.  (2005).  “When goals collide: Monitoring the goals of multiple characters.”  Memory & Cognition, 33(8), pp. 1357-1367.

– Article assesses the tracking of the goals of multiple characters in two movies, Moonraker and Wrath of Khan, and finds that primary antagonist and protagonist goals are tracked equally, while secondary antagonist goals are tracked to a lesser extent.


Horton, W. S. and Rapp, D. N.  (2003).  “Out of sight, out of mind: Occlusion and the accessibility of information in narrative comprehension.”  Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 10, pp. 104-110.

– Horton and Rapp (2003) find that response times are longer when asked about information no longer visible (“occluded”) from the protagonist’s perspective, as opposed to those still visible from that same perspective.  Related to this topic are O’Brien and Albrecht (1992) and Albrecht, et al. (1995), which both find that readers notice when a text contains details perceptually inconsistent with the perspective they are using to understand the story, but only when explicitly instructed to adopt the perspective of the protagonist.  The latter condition is puzzling in relation to Horton and Rapp’s study, which did not include explicit instructions to adopt the character’s perspective yet attained such results nonetheless.


– Read and summarized dozens of article abstracts on reading comprehension as part of a research assistant project on how readers track multiple characters’ perspectives.

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