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Cogn Sci. 2008 Jun;32(4):607-42. doi: 10.1080/03640210802066766.

Bewitchment, biology, or both: the co-existence of natural and supernatural explanatory frameworks across development.

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Department of Psychology, University of Michigan.


Three studies examined the co-existence of natural and supernatural explanations for illness and disease transmission, from a developmental perspective. The participants (5-, 7-, 11-, and 15-year-olds and adults; N = 366) were drawn from 2 Sesotho-speaking South African communities, where Western biomedical and traditional healing frameworks were both available. Results indicated that, although biological explanations for illness were endorsed at high levels, witchcraft was also often endorsed. More important, bewitchment explanations were neither the result of ignorance nor replaced by biological explanations. Instead, both natural and supernatural explanations were used to explain the same phenomena, and bewitchment explanations were highest among adults. Taken together, these data provide insight into how diverse, culturally constructed belief systems about illness co-exist across development.

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