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Cognition. 2013 Jan;126(1):72-86. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.09.003. Epub 2012 Oct 9.

Thinking like a scientist: innateness as a case study.

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Program in Cognitive Science, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8306, USA.


The concept of innateness appears in systematic research within cognitive science, but it also appears in less systematic modes of thought that long predate the scientific study of the mind. The present studies therefore explore the relationship between the properly scientific uses of this concept and its role in ordinary folk understanding. Studies 1-4 examined the judgments of people with no specific training in cognitive science. Results showed (a) that judgments about whether a trait was innate were not affected by whether or not the trait was learned, but (b) such judgments were impacted by moral considerations. Study 5 looked at the judgments of both non-scientists and scientists, in conditions that encouraged either thinking about individual cases or thinking about certain general principles. In the case-based condition, both non-scientists and scientists showed an impact of moral considerations but little impact of learning. In the principled condition, both non-scientists and scientists showed an impact of learning but little impact of moral considerations. These results suggest that both non-scientists and scientists are drawn to a conception of innateness that differs from the one at work in contemporary scientific research but that they are also both capable of 'filtering out' their initial intuitions and using a more scientific approach.

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