Folk philosophy of mind: Changes in conceptual structure between 4-9y of age

AbstractWe explored children's developing understanding of mental life using a novel approach to track changes in conceptual structure from the bottom up by analyzing patterns of mental capacity attributions. US children (n=247) evaluated elephants, goats, mice, birds, beetles, teddy bears, dolls, robots, and computers on a range of mental capacities, allowing us to assess which attributions “go together” and how these conceptual connections might develop over early and middle childhood. Replicating previous studies with adults and older children, an exploratory factor analysis of older children's (7-9y) responses revealed a three-way distinction between physiological abilities (e.g., hunger, smell), social-emotional abilities (e.g., guilt, embarrassment), and perceptual-cognitive abilities (e.g., choice, memory), corresponding to traditional notions of BODY, HEART, and MIND. Hints of this three-way distinction emerged among younger children (4-6y), but younger children appeared to perceive markedly stronger connections among physiological and social-emotional abilities, while clearly distinguishing both from the MIND.

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