A personal construct approach to cognitive structure with a group of preliterate Aboriginal Australians

Jones, Dorothy May (1990) A personal construct approach to cognitive structure with a group of preliterate Aboriginal Australians. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

This investigation concerns the cognitive structure of a group of preliterate, traditionally orientated, rainforest Aboriginal Australians. The model used was the Personal Construct Psychology of George Kelly (1955, 1963). In conjunction a detailed ethnographic account of the rainforest culture was recorded on the initiative of the initiated men who wished their knowledge to survive them. Chapter 1 addresses general methodological issues of taking psychological tests across cultural boundaries and in-built biases in tests which may compromise results. Included are discussions of the emic-etic distinction, the phenomenological or philosophical roots or psychological theory and anticipatory approaches to psychological testing in another culture. In order to establish the general background of Aboriginal cognitive studies, results of psychological testing with Aboriginal Australians are very briefly noted together with the difficulty of identifying causes for the general reports of lower performance scores on such tests in comparison with white Australians. General antecedents are discussed on lines of genetic (intelligence) and environmental factors. It is argued that it might be productive to investigate process divorced from content by using an alternative model. One such alternative direction would be to investigate Aboriginal cognition through an approach based on similarities rather than differences and against which differences could be interpreted. The model proposed is Kelly's (1955, 1963) approach to cognitive structure through an investigation of how personal constructs are organized, thus using the yardstick of the Aboriginals themselves.

The structural implications of Kelly's model are described in Chapter 2 together with a personal construct approach to those variables indicated in Chapter 1 which are reported to have been found to influence cognitive behaviour. These include a personal construct approach to reality; to environmental influences: to the durability of traditional beliefs in the face or presumably invalidating evidence from the dominant culture; to learning and therefore incidentally to psychological change: to intelligence: to behaviour: to the interaction between culture and cognition and to the individual as a cultural person. The argument is that persons should not be conceptually separated from their culture at the outset and culture and individuals treated as separate things for investigation because otherwise the problem arises of trying to reunite them later.

In Chapter 3 the literature on cognitive structure as embodied in Kelly's model is reviewed together with structural measures derived from Kelly's psychology. The psychological concepts of differentiation, integration, complexity and rigidity found in Kelly's personal construct theory are compared with the use or similar structural terms in relation to socio-cultural systems. The view taken is that socio-cultural structure and cognitve structure cannot be compared when disparate definitions of structure apply. The theme used to unite them in this study is the construction of the individual.

Chapter 4 introduces the cultural component together with a description of the ecological setting. Not all cultural constructions are described. Those briefly described have been selected with the twofold intention of providing an indication of the type or culture traditionally observed and as an indication of the background in response to which individuals have developed their own personal construct systems. The chapter also provides a brief record of the history of contact not from the usual historical source material orientation or white settlers and officials but from the aspect of Aboriginals and their perception, defensible or not, of the effects of white settlement on the systems of their culture? The view is taken that it is to these perceptions and handed down historical traditions presently existing that Aboriginals respond by developing their constructions.

Chapter 5 discusses problems inherent in introducing grid methodology to a non-standard preliterate population of another culture and basic problems of identifying pre-existing emic domains and of determining a grid format and response style to accomodate (sic) the limitations of their counting system and cultural protocols. Potential problems are discussed as well as unforseen problems which arose. A resistance to change grid, successfully completed but providing an unreliable result, is briefly reported to indicate what can happen when unwarranted assumptions are made about emic categories.

Chapter 6 is the Method chapter. Here the individual respondents are described. Construct and element elicitation methods are described together with examples of how some constructs were derived. Constructs elicited are listed as well as elements for those grids which reflected construction in the subsystems of beings from the mythical period and entities which continue to inhabit the country bringing fear and causing harm to the incautious. Oral administration and the completion of grids is described together with methods of statistical analysis. For comparison purposes grids were administered to a small sample of literate younger Aboriginals who had been educated within the State education system and, to test for the effects of aging, to a small sample of aged Euro-Australian people.

Results of the structural analysis of grids are described in Chapter 7. In general results show that the grids of the preliterate traditionally instructed Aboriginals show a cognitively noncomplex, monolithic, undifferentiated structure, which is hierarchically rigidly organized in relatively inflexible ways. Furthermore the inflexibile (sic) use of constructs appears directly related to cultural prescriptions. The results of preliterate Aboriginals who received no traditional cultural instruction display a cognitively simple segmented undifferentiated structure which is unintegrated and loosely organized. The structure revealed in the grids of educated Aboriginals shows a monolithic structure which is more differentiated and loose than that of the first group. The grids of the aged Euro- Australian sample display a monolithic structure which is differentiated and integrated but not inflexibly so as are those of the traditionally instructed Aboriginal group. In short the results show a continuum of highly integrated, undifferentiated: loosely integrated, undifferentiated: integrated, undifferentiated: integrated, more differentiated. In this study the preliterate non-tribally educated Aboriginals are distinguished from the preliterate tribally instructed ones in cognitive structure and the literate Aboriginal group tend more towards the type of cognitive structure revealed in the grids of the Euro-Australian group, but a less efficient version.

In Chapter 8 the implications of the above type of cognitive structures for construction, for change and for learning are discussed in terms of the theoretical issues of Kelly's model and of variables introduced in Chapter 1. The utility and quality of the cognitive structure is discussed also in terms of cultural requirements for cultural cohesion and the limitations for learning and psychological change are assessed. The implication of a direct cultural influence and or the apparent effect of failure of the cultural systems and lack of substitute systems on the use of constructs is discussed in relation to the cognitive structure or what might be termed the transitional group. Evidence revealed in the grids of how new elements, provided by religious influences are being incorporated in the personal construct systems of respondents and evidence from repeat grids of one respondent as a response to the stress of outside disconfirming religious pressure is discussed in relation to Kelly's hypotheses as to how change will take place. Some observations regarding the lack or equivalence between Aboriginal English translations of Aboriginal language constructs are recorded as well as the understanding this confers on otherwise naive sounding constructions.

The implications of personal construct research as a crosscultural research tool are assessed.

Item ID: 27721
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: psychological testing; testing bias; personal constructs; genetic influences; environmental influences; cultural influences; cross-cultural research
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2013 03:24
FoR Codes: 17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1702 Cognitive Science > 170299 Cognitive Science not elsewhere classified @ 70%
20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies @ 20%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160899 Sociology not elsewhere classified @ 10%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9599 Other Cultural Understanding > 959999 Cultural Understanding not elsewhere classified @ 49%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and Cognitive Sciences @ 51%
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