A Comparison of Nepalese and American Children’s Concepts of Free Will


Recent work finds that children as young as four years old have an intuitive belief in free will. To what extent is this early-developing intuition universal, and to what extent culturally situated? We surveyed school-aged children (4-11) in two countries (Nepal and the United States) about their beliefs about people’s “free will” to follow personal preferences; break physical and mental constraints; and break social constraints. Results showed both universal and culturally-learned beliefs in free will. Children across cultures shared the early-developing intuitions of free will and constraint, though American children were more likely construe actions as choices. While American children were more likely to believe in the free will to break social constraints as they aged, Nepali children showed the opposite pattern. These findings show that while a basic notion of free will is present and early-developing across both cultures, construals of choice are also culturally learned over time.

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