Developmental Changes in the Use of Supernatural Explanations for Unusual Events

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
Jacqueline D. Woolley
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Chelsea A. Cornelius
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Walter Lacy
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The focus of this research is to explore the developmental trajectory of the propensity to see meaning in unexpected or chance events, and more specifically, to explore the origin and development of nonmaterial or supernatural explanations. Sixty-seven children aged 8, 10 and 12, along with 22 adults, were presented with scenarios describing unusual or unexpected events. They were first asked to provide explanations for why they thought the events occurred and then asked to rate different supernatural explanations (moral justice, God and luck) as they pertained to each scenario. Results indicated that adults spontaneously appealed to supernatural explanations more frequently than did children, and that this tendency to appeal to supernatural concepts increased with age. Participants of all ages frequently endorsed multiple explanations for the same events and were more likely to endorse supernatural explanations for positively valenced than for negatively valenced stories. Religiosity affected both spontaneous explanations and ratings. Findings are discussed in terms of how children acquire the explanatory systems of their culture.

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