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Dogs, Santa Claus, and Sun Wukong: Children’s Understanding of Nonhuman Minds

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Part of the New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion book series (NASR,volume 2)

Abstract

This chapter reviews the cognitive development that influences children’s understanding of nonhuman minds. A summary of prior research is introduced and followed by an overview of two competing hypotheses. The anthropomorphism hypothesis argues that children’s understanding of nonhuman minds generally parallels their understanding of human minds, whereas the preparedness hypothesis posits that young children generally attribute super ability to all agents and only begin to apply limitations as they develop. We argue that recent cross-cultural evidence from a study administered in China and Ecuador supports the preparedness hypothesis. Results from this study indicate that younger children attributed perception and knowledge to all agents similarly, even though these children were themselves ignorant concerning correct responses. Older children differentiated between agents with super ability and agents with limitations. The implications of this study as they relate to religious education and religious studies in China are then discussed.

Keywords

  • Theory of mind
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Preparedness hypothesis
  • Superhuman beings

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-62954-4_6
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Notes

  1. 1.

    There is some evidence indicating that children even younger than 4 years old have a theory of mind (e.g., Luo, 2011; Onishi & Baillargeon, 2005), but not until the age of 4 or 5 do children show the ability to articulate that someone else has a false belief.

  2. 2.

    Ecuadorian children did not significantly differentiate between agents’ visual perception until 6 years of age.

  3. 3.

    Cultural agents were not presented to the Chinese sample for the perception tasks.

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Correspondence to Tyler S. Greenway .

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Greenway, T.S., Foley, G.S., Nystrom, B.C., Barrett, J.L. (2017). Dogs, Santa Claus, and Sun Wukong: Children’s Understanding of Nonhuman Minds. In: Hornbeck, R., Barrett, J., Kang, M. (eds) Religious Cognition in China. New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion , vol 2. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-62954-4_6

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