Sociology Index


Cognitive anthropology is also known as ethnoscience. Cognitive anthropology examines the ways that peoples of different cultures classify or categorize items of the everyday world. Cognitive anthropology has some connection to ethnomethodology. Cognitive anthropology is concerned with what people from different groups know and how that implicit knowledge, in the sense of what they think subconsciously, changes the way people relate to the world around them. Cognitive anthropology uses language as the doorway to study cognition.

Cognitive anthropology studies include a range of domains, like folk taxonomies, the interaction of language and thought, and cultural models. Cognitive anthropology not only focuses on discovering how different peoples organize culture but also how they utilize culture.

Contemporary cognitive anthropology attempts to access the organizing principles that underlie and motivate human behavior. Cognitive science increasingly centers on advancements in neuroscience, cognitive linguistics, and computer sciences, especially in relation to the development of artificial intelligence. 

Cognitive anthropology primarily uses quantitative methodologies in order to study culture. The methodologies of cognitive anthropology have been subsumed in wider anthropological research, departments offering cognitive anthropology as a distinct field of study has become rare.


Cognitive anthropology is an idealist approach to studying the human condition. The field of cognitive anthropology focuses on the study of the relation between human culture and human thought. Cultures are not regarded as material phenomena. Cultures are regarded as cognitive organizations of material phenomena. Cognitive anthropologists study how people understand and organize the material objects, events, and experiences that make up their world as the people they study perceive it.

Cognitive anthropology is an approach that stresses how people make sense of reality according to their own indigenous cognitive categories, not those of the anthropologist. Cognitive anthropologists regard anthropology as a formal science.

Cognitive anthropology posits that each culture orders events, material life and ideas, to its own criteria. The fundamental aim of cognitive anthropology is to reliably represent the logical systems of thought of other people according to criteria, which can be discovered and replicated through analysis.  - TARA ROBERTSON, DUKE BEASLEY.

The methodology, theoretical underpinnings, and subjects of cognitive anthropology have been diverse. Cognitive anthropology is closely aligned with psychology, because both explore the nature of cognitive processes (D'Andrade 1995:1). 

Cognitive anthropology emphasizes the rules of behavior, not behavior itself. Cognitive anthropology does not claim that it can predict human behavior but delineates what is socially and culturally expected or appropriate in given situations, circumstances, and contexts.