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Trends Cogn Sci. 2004 Aug;8(8):356-62.

Vitalistic causality in young children's naive biology.

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Chiba University, Faculty of Education, 1-33 Yayoi-cho, Inage-ku, Chiba 263-8522, Japan. <>


One of the key issues in conceptual development research concerns what kinds of causal devices young children use to understand the biological world. We review evidence that children predict and interpret biological phenomena, especially human bodily processes, on the basis of 'vitalistic causality'. That is, they assume that vital power or life force taken from food and water makes humans active, prevents them from being taken ill, and enables them to grow. These relationships are also extended readily to other animals and even to plants. Recent experimental results show that a majority of preschoolers tend to choose vitalistic explanations as most plausible. Vitalism, together with other forms of intermediate causality, constitute unique causal devices for naive biology as a core domain of thought.

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