How do concepts of mental life vary across cultures? By asking simple questions about humans, animals, and other entities—e.g., Do beetles get hungry? remember things? feel love?—we reconstructed concepts of mental life from the bottom up among adults (N=711) and children (ages 6-12y, N=693) in the US, Ghana, Thailand, China, and Vanuatu. This revealed striking cross-cultural and developmental continuity: Everywhere, among both adults and children, cognitive abilities traveled separately from bodily sensations, suggesting that a mind-body distinction is common across diverse cultures and present by middle childhood. Yet there were substantial cultural and developmental differences in how social-emotional abilities fit in—as part of the body, the mind, or a third category unto themselves. Such differences have far-reaching social consequences, while the similarities identify aspects of human thought that may be universal.


Kara Weisman studies intuitive theories and conceptual change, with a focus on folk philosophy of mind. In Fall 2020, she will join the Developing Belief Network as a postdoctoral Project Director, building a network of developmental psychologists conducting collaborative, comparative work in field sites around the world. From 2016- 2020, she was one of the core researchers on the Mind and Spirit Project, a long-term collaboration grounded in anthropology and psychology, which examined how understandings of the mind shape people’s spiritual experiences across diverse faiths and cultures. Kara completed a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford University in 2019, and a B.A. in cognitive science at Yale University in 2009. Personal website: kgweisman.github.io; Twitter: @kgweisman