Cross-cultural investigations. Article

Okamoto, Y, Case, R, Bleiker, C et al. (1996). Cross-cultural investigations. . MONOGRAPHS OF THE SOCIETY FOR RESEARCH IN CHILD DEVELOPMENT, 61(1-2), 131-155. 10.1111/j.1540-5834.1996.tb00540.x

cited authors

  • Okamoto, Y; Case, R; Bleiker, C; Henderson, B


  • In Piaget's system, the development of children's cognitive structures is seen as progressing through a universal sequence from sensorimotor, to concrete, to formal logical thought. The data that have been obtained on his measures are problematic in their support for this view, however, because they indicate that adults in traditional societies often fail his formal tasks. Piaget's (1972) interpretation of such findings was that they indicated a problem with his measures, not his theory - if appropriate measures were available, he believed that formal logical operations would be found in all cultures and social groups. Our own interpretation differs. While we acknowledge that adults in all cultures are capable of thinking in a fashion that is more sophisticated, subtle, and complex than that of young children, we see the highest forms of thought as being dependent on the mastery of systems that are cultural creations and not universal human attainments - and we see Piaget's system of formal operations as being just one example of the sort of system that can be created by a culture and passed on from one generation to the next. In a previous investigation, Fiati (1992) studied children who were growing up in isolated, agricultural villages in the Volta region of West Africa. In these communities, life was still a traditional one, and children's experiences with time, money, and mathematical computation were considerably different from those of children who were attending schools in the nearby towns. Under these conditions, Fiati found that village children's skill in using numbers or in thinking about quantitative variables did not develop to a very high level as compared to that of their peers in the towns or as compared to their own thinking about social issues. In the terms used in the present Monograph, it appeared as though children's central conceptual structures for number - in contrast to their central conceptual structures for narrative - did not advance much past the unidimensional level. Are unidimensional structures, at least, universal? Very probably the answer to this question is yes. Although systems for counting, for example, vary widely, no culture has yet been found in which counting does not play some role or where young children fail to pass Piaget's conservation of number test (Saxe, 1988). It seems highly likely, therefore, that a mental counting line of some sort is a universal construction. The situation in the domain of narrative is quite similar. Although folktales vary widely from one culture to the next, no culture has been reported in which folktales play no role whatever or where the story line of existing folktales does not have some form of intentional component (Propp, 1922/1968). The mental story line may thus be a universal construction as well. Finally, no culture has been reported in which some form of decorative art is not present or in which no technology exists for launching a projectile along a desired trajectory. If these activities require a mental reference line of some sort, then this would be a candidate for universal conceptual attainment as well. In the present series of studies, our investigations were confined to societies that are modern, highly literate, and schooled. Thus, our interest was in demonstrating a universal progression well beyond the unidimensional level, in the sorts of structure that are crucial to life in a modern industrial culture. In fact, this was what we found in each of our studies. On our tests of central conceptual structures, children progressed through the same stages and at the same rate. By contrast, on our tests of more specific understanding, especially on those dealing with issues on which different cultures place different emphasis, we found large and significant cross-national differences. From this we conclude that, if a culture values a particular task or set of tasks and invests a great deal of effort in teaching them, it is likely that the

publication date

  • January 1, 1996

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

start page

  • 131

end page

  • 155


  • 61


  • 1-2