Brungarians Use it Differently! Children’s Understanding of Artifact Function as a Cultural Convention

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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  • 1 Department of Psychology, University of British ColumbiaBCCanada
  • | 2 Department of Psychology, University of MichiganMIUSA
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Children not only recognize the function of an artifact, but they actively protest when others use it in an atypical way. In two experiments, we asked whether children view artifact function as universal or as culturally dependent. In both experiments children watched videos of two actors who used common artifacts atypically (e.g. a woman using a fork to comb her hair). In Experiment 1A, 6-to-7-year-old children were told that the actors were either from Canada or a far away country. Children were marginally more likely to protest a Canadian using the artifact in a novel way than when the individual was from a far away country. In Experiment 1B, the familiar or unfamiliar culture was explicitly highlighted (e.g., “in Canada it snows in winter” vs. “in Brungaria it rains in winter”). Four-to-five-year-olds were also included as a comparison group. Six-to-seven-year-olds protested the atypical use when the actor was Canadian more than when the actor was Brungarian, whereas 4-to-5-year-olds protested at non-significant rates. Additionally, when asked what appropriate function of the artifact was, 6-to-7-year olds were more likely to endorse the atypical function when it was performed by a Brungarian than a Canadian, while 4-to-5-year-olds never endorsed the atypical function, regardless of condition. These findings demonstrate that while younger children view artifact function as universal, children over the age of 6 recognize that the accepted function of an artifact may vary by culture.

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