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Cognition. 2003 Jun;88(2):201-21.

British and American children's preferences for teleo-functional explanations of the natural world.

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Department of Psychology, Boston University, 64 Cummington Street, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


Teleological-functional explanations account for objects by reference to their purpose. They are a fundamental aspect of adults' explanatory repertoire. They also play a significant role in children's reasoning although prior findings indicate that, in contrast to adults, young children broadly extend teleological explanation beyond artifacts (e.g. chairs) and biological properties (e.g. eyes) to the properties of non-living natural phenomena (e.g. clouds, rocks). The present study extends earlier work with American children to explore British children's application of teleological explanation. The motivation is that while Britain and America are, culturally, as close to a minimal pair as the global context affords, there are differences in the religiosity of the two nations such that British children might be less inclined to endorse purpose-based explanation. Results reveal that young British children also possess a promiscuous teleology although they differ in the kinds of purposes that they attribute. Additional findings include a replication of earlier effects using a modified task with young American children.

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