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Understanding death as the cessation of intentional action: A cross-cultural developmental study

Barrett, H. Clark and Behne, Tanya (2001) Understanding death as the cessation of intentional action: A cross-cultural developmental study. [Conference Poster] (In Press)

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Abstract

Determining whether or not an entity is capable of acting intentionally is a fundamental cognitive skill that emerges in the first year of infancy, and the inability to act is a key aspect distinguishing dead from living things. Though young children’s understanding of death is generally thought to be poor, an understanding of death as the permanent cessation of agency might develop early in childhood. This study tested the cessation-of-agency hypothesis cross-culturally, by examining the differences between children’s judgments about sleeping and dead animals. The results showed that children understand that death entails the permanent cessation of the ability to act by age 4 in two different cultures. This is consistent with a view that those distinctions that are most crucial for adaptive decision-making are the ones that develop earliest.

Item Type:Conference Poster
Keywords:evolutionary psychology, cognitive development, agency, death
Subjects:Psychology > Developmental Psychology
Psychology > Evolutionary Psychology
ID Code:1730
Deposited By:Barrett, Clark
Deposited On:07 Aug 2001
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:54

References in Article

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Barrett, H.C. (1999). Human cognitive adaptations to predators and prey. PhD Dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara. UMI Microform number 9986870.

Barrett, H.C., Cosmides, L., and Tooby, J. (in prep). Children’s understanding of predator-prey interactions and death.

Gergely, G., Nádasdy, Z., Csibra, G., & Biró, S. (1995). Taking the intentional stance at 12 months of age. Cognition, 56, 165-193

Leslie, A. M. (1994). ToMM, ToBy, and agency: Core architecture and domain specificity. In L. A. Hirschfeld & S. A. Gelman (Eds.), Mapping the mind: Domain specificity in cognition and culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Slaughter, V., Jaakkola, R., & Carey, S. (1999). Constructing a coherent theory: Children's biological understanding of life and death. In M. Siegal & C. Peterson (Eds.), Children's understanding of biology and health. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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