Animals, Superman, Fairy and God: Children’s Attributions of Nonhuman Agent Beliefs in Madrid and London

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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  • 1 University of East London, London, UK
  • 2 University of Castilla-La Mancha, Madrid, Spain

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Abstract

There have been major developments in the understanding of children’s nonhuman concepts, particularly God concepts, within the past two decades, with a body of cross-cultural studies accumulating. Relatively less research has studied those of non-Christian faiths or children’s concepts of popular occult characters. This paper describes two studies, one in Spain and one in England, examining 5- to 10-year-olds’ human and nonhuman agent beliefs. Both settings were secular, but the latter comprised a Muslim majority. Children were given a false-belief (unexpected contents) task in which they were asked to infer about three humans (mother, classmate, teacher), three animals (dog, bear, bird) and three supernatural beings (Superman, fairy, God). Similar false beliefs about humans, with subtle differences in inferences about animals and supernatural beings, were found between the two locations. In London different patterns for God between participants with a family religion, in particular Muslims, and non-affiliates, were identified as well as an association between religious beliefs and practice and inferences about God. Findings are discussed in the light of theory and research on the role of sociocultural inputs in children’s theory of mind development and understanding of agency.

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