Cognitive anthropology is a field of research of cultural anthropology that focuses on the relationship between language, culture and reality. Cognitive anthropology aims to shed light on the basic cognitive processes through which human beings elaborate their knowledge of the world. Developed from the sixties of the twentieth century in the United States, cognitive anthropology has gradually consolidated methodologies and theoretical elaborations, becoming around the eighties one of the leading directions of contemporary anthropological research.
At the basis of this discipline there is a conception of culture as a system of knowledge, as opposed to the idea of culture as a set of norms and values from which derive the behavior patterns of individuals, commonly accepted in anthropology. From the confluence of instances of cognitive psychology, linguistics and structural anthropology of C.. Lévi-Strauss, derives the method of analysis of cognitive anthropologists, which consists primarily in the careful explication of the knowledge attributable to the members of a given cultural group on the most diverse areas of reality, through the examination of their verbal responses, or induced through appropriate prompting by the researcher or spontaneous, obtained in certain situations of interlocution.
C. O. Frake, one of the major exponents of this current of studies, believes that the messages that the observer can record in everyday situations of communication are important sources for the reconstruction of what people know and for the definition of the ways in which the members of a given cultural group organize their lives.
Most studies in cognitive anthropology have focused on classifications of the natural world (plants and animals) and zoological and botanical knowledge systems developed by a wide variety of populations in different places on earth. One of the most important studies of cognitive anthropology is that carried out by anthropologists B. Berlin and P. Kay on color terminologies, from which started the address called ethnoscience, characterized by the general hypothesis that every system of knowledge in every culture follows identical ways of organization, through which it passes from a simple form to increasingly complex forms.
Important exponents of cognitive anthropology, in addition to the already mentioned Frake and Berlin, are W. Goodenough and H. C. Conklin. In Italy, cognitive anthropology and its most specific ramification, ethnoscience, has been the focus of Giorgio Raimondo Cardona’s interests.