God's Beliefs versus Mother's: The Development of Nonhuman Agent Concepts



Little research exists on how children understand the actions of nonhuman agents. Researchers often assume that children overgeneralize and attribute human properties such as false beliefs to nonhuman agents. In this study, three experiments were conducted to test this assumption. The experiments used 24 children in New York (aged 2,11 – 6,11 years), 52 children in Michigan (aged 3,5 – 6,11 years), and a second group of 45 children in Michigan (3,4 – 8,5 years) from Christian backgrounds. In the first two experiments, children participated in false-belief tests in which they were asked about human and various nonhuman agents including animals and God. Experiment 3 consisted of a modified perspective-taking task, also including nonhuman agents. The results of the study suggest that children do not consistently use human agent concepts but instead can use different agent concepts for some nonhuman agents like God and special animals. Children are not bound to anthropomorphize, but they often do.