How do young children deal with hybrids of living and non-living things: The case of humanoid robots


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Megan M. Saylor, Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37203, USA (e-mail:


In this experiment, we tested children's intuitions about entities that bridge the contrast between living and non-living things. Three- and four-year-olds were asked to attribute a range of properties associated with living things and machines to novel category-defying complex artifacts (humanoid robots), a familiar living thing (a girl), and a familiar complex artifact (a camera). Results demonstrated that 4-year-olds tended to treat the category-defying entities like members of the inanimate group, while 3-year-olds showed more variability in their responding. This finding suggests that preschoolers' ability to classify complex artifacts that cross the living–non-living divide becomes more stable between the ages of 3 and 4 and that children at both ages draw on a range of properties when classifying such entities.