Scott Atran. Psychology, Anthropology, and a Science of Human Beings

Social Evolution Forum

The following reflection on the problems of psychology, anthropology, and a science of human beings has been stimulated by recent responses to a couple of recent articles in Nature (Looking for the Roots of Terrorism  and Psychologists Seek Roots of Terror), by my very able co-worker (Lydia Wilson) reacting to problems of doing fieldwork in Lebanon that produces something to “show” for the scientific community, and by exchanges with my colleagues at ARTIS research, Baruch Fischhoff and Doug Medin.

The problem with cognitive, social and developmental psychology, and related neuropsychological approaches to cultural issues are not just methodological—although these are pretty massive, like the fact that almost all studies by academic psychologists are of students at the same academic institutions or of children who live within a few miles. The philosophical problem is the belief that “culture” is an independent variable, a presumed cause of other things—pushing…

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