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Young Children are Reality-Prone When Thinking about Stories

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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  • 1 a Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut Street, Solomon Labs, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA b Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, Box 1821, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA c Department of Psychology, Yale University, P.O. Box 208205, New Haven, CT 06520–8205, USA * Corresponding author, e-mail: deena.weisberg@psych.upenn.edu
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Abstract

Many parents and some researchers assume that young children are fantastical thinkers. We examined this assumption in the domain of reasoning about fictional stories. We presented 4-year-olds with realistic and fantastical stories and asked them how best to continue these stories: with ordinary events or with events that violate real-world causal laws. Children preferred the ordinary events for both types of stories (Experiment 1, n=42) while a comparison group of adults (n=68) continued stories based on their content. To ensure that children’s responses reflected their intuitions about stories per se, Experiment 2 (n=60) asked 4-year-olds to make the same choice between realistic and fantastical events, but in the context of figuring out an experimenter’s preferences or learning a new word. Here, children did not demonstrate an overall bias for the realistic events. These findings suggest that children are reality-prone in the context of fictional stories.

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