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J Exp Soc Psychol. 2013 May 1;49(3):559-565.

The Development of Reasoning about Beliefs: Fact, Preference, and Ideology.

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Harvard University, Department of Psychology, 33 Kirkland St., Cambridge, MA 02138, United States.


The beliefs people hold about the social and physical world are central to self-definition and social interaction. The current research analyzes reasoning about three kinds of beliefs: those that concern matters of fact (e.g., dinosaurs are extinct), preference (e.g., green is the prettiest color), and ideology (e.g., there is only one God). The domain of ideology is of unique interest because it is hypothesized to contain elements of both facts and preferences. If adults' distinct reasoning about ideological beliefs is the result of prolonged experience with the physical and social world, children and adults should reveal distinct patterns of differentiating kinds of beliefs, and this difference should be particularly pronounced with respect to ideological beliefs. On the other hand, if adults' reasoning about beliefs is a basic component of social cognition, children and adults should demonstrate similar belief representations and patterns of belief differentiation. Two experiments demonstrate that 5-10 year old children and adults similarly judged religious beliefs to be intermediate between factual beliefs (where two disagreeing people cannot both be right) and preferences (where they can). From the age of 5 years and continuing into adulthood, individuals distinguished ideological beliefs from other types of mental states and demonstrated limited tolerance for belief-based disagreements.


beliefs; ideology; religion; social cognition; social cognitive development

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