Selective learning beyond social categorisation: the acquisition of general and culture-specific information
A distinction can be made between culture-specific, convention-based knowledge, which are specific to cultural groups, and general knowledge, which is independent of culture. The latter include, for example, the recognition that if an object is hot, it will be hot for everyone, regardless of group membership. Considering the group membership of those imparting knowledge may prove an effective strategy for acquiring knowledge relevant in one’s own culture. However, recognising situations where reliance on this strategy is not necessary, is an essential part of adaptive learning.
In the present study, children aged 4-5 years were first introduced to two teachers: one was identified as an ingroup-, the other an outgroup member. The kids were then shown both actors in a scene based either on general knowledge or habitual, cultural knowledge. During the scene, an object choice situation was presented (e.g., general knowledge: the drink in the teacher's glass is too hot, so he chooses the object he can use to cool it down; cultural knowledge: the drink in the teacher's glass is very tasteless, so he chooses the object he usually uses at home in such situations). We were interested in finding out which object the children would choose in the same situation, given the story of the scenes presented and the teacher’s choices: would they consider the information presented or not when making their decisions.
Our results show that children accounted for the type of information they observed, with a correspondingly greater appropriation of what they saw in the case of generalised knowledge, as opposed to culture-specific, habitual content. Information type also overrode the effect of group membership: the highest proportion of general knowledge was acquired by children from their own group member, followed by general knowledge presented by an outgroup member. This was followed by culture-specific knowledge presented by an ingroup member. Lastly, the lowest proportion of culture-specific knowledge was acquired by participants from a person outside of their group.