Monday, November 15, 2004

Concepts of "Human" Among American Undergraduates

I've been reading a lot of literature on the creative cognition approach lately (expect a post soon), and came across something interesting, though it's not really about creative cognition. In an experiment by Ward et al., participants (98 undergraduates in an introductory psychology course) were asked to list properties of humans that distinguish them from animals. Here are the most common categories of properties listed, along with the percentage of participants who listed them (taken from Table 1 in Ward, et al., p.1390):
Communication 72
Mental ability 68
Physical features 42
Technical/manipulative 33
Emotions 32
Socioeconomic institutions 25
Morality/religion 22
Sex/reproduction 20
Clothing 13
Instinct 15
Family 12
Lifespan 11
Consciousness 8
Dominance 7
Creativity 6

How do their concepts of "human" fit with yours? I think it's interesting that "consciousness" was only listed by 8% of the participants, when it's played such a large role in intellectual debates about "humanness."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

i think there may be some conflation between "communication" (presumably language) and "mental ability" on one hand (which were indeed quite highly ranked), and "concsiousness" on the other. distinguising the latter from the former two may be largely dependent on certain intellectual traditions not available to your typical undergraduate, but the former seem naturally integral to a folk theory of human mind/concsiouness.

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