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Sociocultural Input Facilitates Children’s Developing Understanding of Extraordinary Minds


  • Funding for this research was provided by National Institute of Child Health & Human Development Grant HD022149 to Henry M. Wellman and by a Rackham School of Graduate Studies Research Grant to Jonathan D. Lane. We are very grateful to the children and parents who participated in this study and to the teachers and staff at the University of Michigan Children’s Centers, Cornerstone Christian School, Go Like the Wind Montessori School, Lil’ Saints Preschool, Livingston Christian School, and Our Father’s Child Preschool. We also thank Jessie Emerick for her help coding children’s open-ended responses. The manuscript benefited from suggestions provided by two anonymous reviewers on earlier drafts. Portions of this research were presented at the biennial meeting of the Cognitive Development Society, October 2009.

concerning this article should be addressed to Jonathan D. Lane, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109. Electronic mail may be sent to


Three- to 5-year-old (= 61) religiously schooled preschoolers received theory-of-mind (ToM) tasks about the mental states of ordinary humans and agents with exceptional perceptual or mental capacities. Consistent with an anthropomorphism hypothesis, children beginning to appreciate limitations of human minds (e.g., ignorance) attributed those limits to God. Only 5-year-olds differentiated between humans’ fallible minds and God’s less fallible mind. Unlike secularly schooled children, religiously schooled 4-year-olds did appreciate another agent’s less fallible mental abilities when instructed and reminded about those abilities. Among children who understood ordinary humans’ mental fallibilities, knowledge of God predicted attributions of correct epistemic states to extraordinary agents. Results suggest that, at a certain point in ToM development, sociocultural input can facilitate an appreciation for extraordinary minds.