Children’s understanding of reality and possibility and its cultural transmission mechanisms
Cui, Yixin Kelly
MetadataShow full item record
When learning about concepts that are difficult to experience first-hand, children must rely on information from others. One challenge for young children is that adults may provide differing information, yet few studies have examined how children reconcile conflicting beliefs from different sources. Across three studies, I explored children’s understanding of reality and possibility in natural and supernatural domains from secular and Christian communities in a largely secular society, Mainland China. Two age groups were included, one group before formal schooling (5- to 6-year-olds), where children are mainly exposed to testimony from parents and their immediate circle, and one group after several years of schooling (9- to 11-year-olds), where the testimony from parents may support or conflict with school testimony. Specifically, in Study 1, children and their parents were asked to judge the existence of unobservable scientific and religious entities. Results showed that the ontological judgments of children from both age groups were in strong correspondence with their parents’ beliefs, even when parental testimony may conflict with the testimony children receive in school. Study 2 expanded beyond Study 1 to explore children’s understanding of fact and fiction in counter-intuitive processes. Study 2 also asked whether religious exposure from the immediate circle in a largely secular society may extend Christian children’s understanding of possibility in formal religious contexts to folk religious contexts, fantastical contexts or improbable contexts in general. It was found that with age, Christian Chinese children became less likely to extend their belief in the impossible via God’s intervention to other magical or divine powers. Lastly, Study 3 examined and revealed the specific elements of parental testimony that might alert children to the existence or non-existence of unobservable concepts by analyzing parent-child conversations about unobservable scientific and religious concepts in both high consensus and low consensus domains. Taken together, Study 1 and Study 2 demonstrated the weight of testimony from parents and the immediate community on children’s understanding of possibility and facts when there is conflicting testimony in the larger society. Study 3 provided evidence on parental testimony as one possible cultural transmission mechanism. The final chapter addresses the significance and implications of these findings in the field of developmental science and education.
RightsAttribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International