The Influence of Beliefs on Children's and Adults' Cognition and Social Preferences

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The Influence of Beliefs on Children's and Adults' Cognition and Social Preferences

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Title: The Influence of Beliefs on Children's and Adults' Cognition and Social Preferences
Author: Heiphetz, Larisa Alexandra
Citation: Heiphetz, Larisa Alexandra. 2013. The Influence of Beliefs on Children's and Adults' Cognition and Social Preferences. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Beliefs--mental representations of particular propositions as true--are fundamental to social cognition. Among the most influential beliefs are ideologies, which concern the way things should be and help people understand the social structures within which they live. Ideologies occupy a unique position because they contain elements of other types of beliefs. For example, to a Biblical literalist, the belief that the earth is 4000 years old may seem fact-like. Because not everyone agrees about ideologies, however, such beliefs may seem somewhat preference-like even to their strongest adherents. To investigate the role of social experience in reasoning about ideologies, we examined children and adults. Because children have significantly less experience with ideologies, their reasoning may diverge from adults. On the other hand, if children and adults respond similarly, this would indicate that vast amounts of experience are not necessary for adult-like belief-based cognition to emerge. Part 1 showed that 5-10 year old children and adults distinguished ideological beliefs from factual beliefs(a domain in which, if two people disagree, at least one must be wrong) and preference-based beliefs(a domain in which it is acceptable for people to disagree), indicating that much experience is unnecessary for this ability to emerge. Given that even young children recognize that those who disagree with their ideological beliefs are not necessarily wrong, it is possible that children would not show strong social preferences in this domain. On the other hand, given children’s propensity toward group-based preferences in other areas, even young children may show religion-based preferences. In Part II, 6-8 year old Christian children showed implicit pro-Christian preferences regardless of the comparison target’s religion but only reported pro-Christian preferences when the two targets were very different from one another. In Part III, 6-11 year old children preferred peers who shared their religious, factual, and preference-based beliefs and selectively attributed pro-social behaviors to individuals who shared their religious views. Taken together, these findings suggest that children and adults differentiate ideologies from other types of mental states and that, despite its complexity, ideology influences social judgments even among young children.
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Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:11127837
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