Childhood Cognition Lab


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Cognition and Religion

Origin beliefs

Research into children’s beliefs about the origin of species has suggested that children are predisposed toward creation beliefs (Evans, 2001), a predisposition that has been termed “intuitive theism” (Kelemen, 2004). Ongoing research in our lab examines the extent to which creation beliefs are universal and how variations in cultural practices and beliefs influence the cognitive proclivities that promote creation beliefs.

The creation of belief: Chinese children’s use of evolution to explain the origin of species. One way to examine the universality of creation beliefs is to examine beliefs about the origin of species in a culture where religious beliefs are not prevalent and are not encouraged. This particular project has focused on understanding 8- to 12-year-old Chinese children’s preference for explanations about the origin of species. Results indicate that in this entire age range Chinese children, unlike American children, select evolutionary explanations for the origin of animates.

Participants in the Lab

Cultural variation. In another series of studies, we are examining the role of specific cultural, cognitive, and individual difference variables on beliefs about the origin of species and understanding of evolutionary theory. Specifically, these studies aim to go beyond religious affiliation in explaining the influences on beliefs and understanding, as well as understanding how beliefs and understanding are related.

The Soul

An additional way to examine if concepts of the soul are rooted in children’s normative cognitive development and tendencies toward psychological essentialism is to examine the variation in these concepts cross-culturally. Thus, our lab is investigating how 8- to 12-year-old Chinese children conceive of concepts of the mind, brain, and the body, as well as their relation to concepts of identity.

Religious Rituals

Participants in the Lab

Research suggests that concepts of religious rituals are the products of cultural learning and natural cognitive processes (Barrett & Lawson, 2001; Richert, 2006). Our lab's research examines the influence of social cognition on ritual concepts. Two current studies are examining this phenomenon. First, we are examining adult’s concepts of familiar and unfamiliar rituals. Second, we are examining children's concepts of intention and the role they play in the formation of concepts of unfamiliar and familiar rituals.

Additionally, we are examing the role of the physical actions of rituals in the formation of religious concepts. Religious knowledge has been hypothesized to be embodied, integrally tied to the situation and context in which the memories were formed. In addition to religious visions and religious beliefs, religious knowledge is thought to be embodied within the physical actions of religious rituals (Barsalou et al., 2005). Research in our lab is examining the connection between concepts of religious rituals and the physical actions of those rituals.