Agency concepts across cultures: How intuitive is folkpsychology?


The present research investigates cultural variation in conceptual frameworks for interpreting agency. A mind perception measure (Gray, Gray, & Wegner, 2007) was adapted for interviews with Indigenous Ngöbe adults in Panama and US college students. Participants ranked the agency capacities of various entities and provided explanations. Rankings varied systematically, with Ngöbe more likely to ascribe agency to nonhuman natural kinds than US participants. Analysis of explanations indicated that agency concepts are organized under different folktheories: US participants construed agency as a hierarchical, prototypically human capacity requiring consciousness, whereas Ngöbe construed agency as a multidimensional relational capacity expressed in directed interactions. An emphasis on psychological agency as distinct from other (biological, physical) forms of agency is widely assumed to be a conceptual prior, but these findings suggest that it may instead be a feature of Western cultural epistemologies.

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