The goal of the present study was to assess the nature and development of children’s concepts of miracles — their understanding of what miracles are, their beliefs in miracles, and their use of miracles as an explanatory device. A total of 36 7–12-year-old children attending an Episcopal school were given a combination of tasks and structured interview questions. Parents filled out a family religiosity questionnaire. Results revealed multi-faceted conceptions of miracles, along with a high level of belief, and indicated that children considered miracles an effective explanatory construct. We apply these findings to the general question of how children learn to explain their world.
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.