Cognition, 50 (1994) 171-188 OOlO-0277/94/$07.

00 0 1994 - Elsevier Science

B.V. All rights reserved.



naive theory

of biology


“Faculty of Liberal Arts, Dokkyo University, Soka, Saitama 340, Japan hSchool of Education, Chiba University, Chiba 263, Japan

Abstract This article aimed at investigating the nature of young children’s naive theory of biology by reviewing a large number of studies conducted in our laboratories. More specifically, we tried to answer the following five critical questions. What components does young children’s knowledge system for biological phenomena (or naive biology) have? What functions does it have in childrenS lives? How is it acquired in ontogenesis? How does its early version change as children grow older? Is it universal across cultures and through history? We propose that young children’s biological knowledge system has at least three components, that is, knowledge needed to specify the target objects of biology, ways of inferring attributes or behaviors of biological kinds, and a non-intentional causal explanatory framework, and that these three constitute a form of biology, which is adaptive in children’s lives. We also claim that the core of naive biology is acquired based on specific cognitive constraints as well as the general mechanism of personification and the resultant vitalistic causality, but it is differently instantiated and elaborated through activity-based experiences in the surrounding culture.

A growing number of cognitive developmentalists have come to agree that young children possess “theories” about selected aspects of the world (Wellman & Gelman, 1992). This conceptualization is a distinct departure from the Piagetian position. which assumed young children to be preoperational and thus





do not recognize that our bodily functions are independent of our intention nor that biological processes which produce growth or death are autonomous.. In other words.e. Keil. Some developmentalists (e. howcvcr. Hatano. Among others. phenomena are conceptualized differently from other phenomena from the beginning (e. K. Because of the limited space available. a number of recent studies have suggested that children possess biological knowledge at much earlier ages than Carey claimed. Carey. Hatano & Inagaki. if it does. It is generally Carey (1987) suggest that thcrc agreed that naive physics and young where arc a naive psychology are included among them. children arc assumed to possess theories only in a few selected domains. exact characterizations of these theories require further studies.. none of these has been widely accepted as an important domain.g. because means coherent bodies of knowledge that understanding.. intentional causality). we will refer to studies conducted in other laboratories only when they are highly rclevant. As to whether young children have acquired a form of biology. What components does each theory have? What functions does it have in children’s lives? How is it acquired in ontogenesis? How does its early version change as children grow older? Is it universal across cultures and through history‘? In what follows. A few other candidate theories young children may possess are theory of matters (e. Furth. & Wiser. more specifically. What else? Wcllman and Gelman (1992) take biology as the third domain.g.. but the former certainly have something more than a collection of facts and/or procedures to obtain desired results (Kuhn.. lY80). young children lack the mind-body distinction. l9Y2). there has been a debate in recent years.g. Whichever aspects of the world young children have theories about. innate dozen or early cognitive constraints work.. we would like to offer our tentative answers to these questions as to naive biology. How similar young children’s theories involve causal arc to theories scientists have is still an open question. IOSS). . lnuguki I Cognition 50 (1994) 171-1XX incapable the term explanatory of offering “theories” more or less plausible explanations in any domain. Nonetheless. the following questions seem critical. or so such domains. Smith. Others have proposed that biological much earlier than Carey (198. An important qualification here is “selected aspects of”.172 G. nor researched cxtcnsivcly. According to her. 1989). based on a large amount of data collected by our associates and ourselves. On one hand.g. at least compared with the “big three”.5) assumed. On the other hand. 1992). Vosniadou & Brewer. and theory of society (e. astronomy (e. Carey (1985) claimed that children before around age IO make predictions and explanations for biological phenomena based on intuitive psychology (i.g. 1987) have asserted that the differentiation between psychology and biology occurs.

and Gelman (1993) also reported that 4-year-olds recognize that. More specifically. but “growth” patterns i. Inagaki I Cognition 50 (1994) 171-188 173 Components of young children’s biological knowledge young children possess and plants needed for to a We are convinced that the body of knowledge which about biological phenomena (e. behavior of animals individual offspring) survival.. coherence. The and reasonable predictions for attributes or behaviors of biological kinds. Kalish. reproduction and inheritance of properties has at least three components. bodily process.. that is. 1993b). Animate-inanimate and mind-body distinctions An increasing number of recent studies have revealed that young children have the animate-inanimate distinction. children of ages 4-6 were presented with a picture of a flower’s bud (or a new artifact or a young animal) as the standard stimulus picture. Gelman. which is an extension of that of Rosengren. Though only a small number of studies have dealt with plants as living things. In this study. in other words. Gelman.g. K. It is clear . Shatz. The children showed “invariance” patterns (i. and McCormick (1991). children before age 6 distinguish plants and animals from non-living things in terms of growth. and believe that these three constitute naive biology (Inagaki. for example animals’ ability to perform autonomous movements (e.G. The first is knowledge enabling one to specify objects to which biology is applicable. preschool children can distinguish animals from inanimate objects by attending to some salient distinctive features.. 1993a).e. which investigated children’s differentiation between animals and artifacts in terms of growth. 1990). and were then asked to choose which of two other pictures would represent the same plant (or artifact or animal) a few hours later and several months/years later. For example. they have also indicated that young children recognize plants as distinct from non-living things in some respects. both animals and plants can regrow. Backscheider.e. whereas artifacts can be mended only by human intervention. Hatano.g. These components correspond respectively to the three features that Wellman (1990) lists in characterizing framework theories: ontological distinctions. no change in size both a few hours later and several months/years later for all the items) for artifacts.. changes in size either/both a few hours later and several months/years later) ( for plants and animals. changes in size as time goes by (Inagaki. The third is a nonintentional causal explanatory framework for behaviors needed for individual survival and bodily processes. knowledge about the living-non-living distinction. and also second is a mode of inference which about the mind-body can produce consistent distinction. when damaged. and a causal-explanatory framework.

Inagaki I Cognition SO (1994) 171-1X8 that young children can distinguish non-living things in some attributes. but also the independence of activities of bodily organs (e. An even more systematic study on the mind-body distinction has just been reported by Inagaki and Hatano (1993. Based on this and other related studies. a baby rabbit grows not because its owner wants it to but because it takes food. and thus distinguished from animals and plants category of living things. such as “A tulip or a pine tree dies if we do not water it”. Another important piece of evidence for this distinction is young children’s use of non-intentional (or vitalistic) causality for bodily phenomena but not for social-psychological ones. in other words. Hatono..g.g. that are bodily and modifiable by exercise or diet (e.and 6-year-olds inanimate things would show similar Hatano and Inagaki (1994) found commonalities between animals over time. Young children can also distinguish between the body and the mind. For example. Siegal (1988) indicated that children of ages 4-8 recognize that illness is caused not by moral but by medical factors. Inagaki and Hatano (1987) revealed that children of 5-6 years of age recognize that the growth of living things is beyond their intentional control. forgetfulness). gender).g. such as those leading to social or psychological consequences.. Experiment 1). they showed that even children aged 4 and 5 already recognize not only the differential modifiability among characteristics that are unmodifiable by any means (c. we can conclude that children are able to acquire the living-non-living distinction by age 6. and one-fifth of them by referring to watering as corresponding to feeding as a condition for growth. typical animals and plants from typical That young children treat inanimate things differently is not sufficient for claiming that they have an integrated Proof that they are aware of the commonalities between needed. to be not. many of and plants in terms of feeding them from inanimate things. K. this point is discussed in a later section. and that are mental and modifiable by will or monitoring (e. about one-third of them cited the phenomenon of plants getting bigger from a seed or a bud. .g. By asking S. they have substantial knowledge of contagion and contamination as causes of illness.174 CT. By interviewing children using a variety of questions. Springer and Keil (1989) reported that children of ages 4-7 consider those features leading to biologically functional consequences for animals to be inherited. biological phenomena from social or psychological ones. that a great majority of them recognized and growing in size Moreover. both of which are observed among a subset of animate things.. heartbeat) from a person’s intention. for growth. animals and plants is whether a few examples of plants or those of phenomena to those we observe for animals. These findings all suggest that young children recognize the autonomous nature of biological processes. running speed). them justified their responses by mapping food for animals to water for plants. while other sorts of features..

On her way home she drops in at a store with this caged grasshopper. ‘cause the grasshopper. 1991). “The grasshopper will be picked up by someone. What will the grasshopper do?” (contradictory). or the person analogy in a constrained way. Young children are so familiar with humans that they can use their knowledge about humans as a source for analogically attributing properties to less familiar animate objects or predicting situations. (b) contradictory situations. whereas they did not give personified predictions for the contradictory situations. Hatano. about the relation between the brain and feeling). After shopping she is about to leave the store without the grasshopper. and predictions based on the person analogy contradict children’s specific knowledge about the target. where they were unable to check the plausibility of products of person analogies because of the lack of adequate knowledge (e. K. in which a human being and the target object would behave similarly. As expected. what will the grasshopper do?“] “The grasshopper will just stay there. The following are example responses of a child aged 6 years 3 months: for the “too-much-eating” question of the “similar” situation. “Does a grasshopper feel something if the person who has been taking care of it daily dies? [If the subject’s answer is “Yes”] How does it feel?” (compatible).” [“Why doesn’t the grasshopper do anything? Why does it just stay there?“] “It cannot (go out of the cage and) walk.” [“Zf someone does not pick up the cage.G. though it is an insect. personification. 1991) confirmed .g. In one of the studies (Inagaki & Hatano. where the object and a human being would in fact react differently. “Suppose a woman buys a grasshopper. Results indicated that for the similar situations many of the children generated reasonable predictions with some explanations by using person analogies. but they do not use knowledge studies (Inagaki & Hatano. we asked children of age 6 to predict a grasshopper’s or tulip’s reactions to three types of novel situations: (a) similar situations. unlike a the reactions of such objects to novel about humans indiscriminately. What will happen with it if we feed it 10 times a day?” (similar situation).. Example questions for each situation are as follows: “We usually feed a grasshopper once or twice a day when we raise it at home. ‘cause it cannot open the cage. is like a person (in this point)“. “The grasshopper will be dizzy and die. Our such a process of constrained 1987. Inagaki I Cognition 50 (1994) 171-188 175 Personification as means to make educated guesses about living things When children do not have enough knowledge about they can make an educated guess by using personification a target animate object. where the target object and a human would react differently. for the “left-behind” question of the “contradictory” situation. and (c) compatible situations. but predictions obtained through the person analogy do not seem implausible to them. they produced unreasonable predictions for the compatible situations.

For instance.g. 1985). irrespective of his or her intention. sometimes they try to explain them using the language of person-intentional causality (Carey. using person speaking. “The This illustrates well how this child applied feel unhappy. vitalistic causality indicates that the target phenomenon is caused by activity of an internal organ. like a living thing.person”. 1962). children before age 10 base their explanations of biological phenomena on an intentional causality. whereas mechanical causality means that physiological mechanisms cause the target phenomenon. Carey (1985) claimed that. and thus they have a form of biology which is differentiated from psychology.. determines the nature of a theory. Children may not be willing to use intentional causality for biological phenomena but not as yet able to use mechanical causality. intentional causality versus mechanical causality. we propose an intermediate form of causality between these two. only Non-intentional cuusalit_v The experimental evidence presented so far enables us to indicate that young children have a coherently organized body of knowledge applicable to living things. as mentioned above. bodily processes mediating input-output relations) in an open-ended interview (e. to exchange substances with its environment or to carry them to and from bodily parts. In contrast. This body of knowledge can be called a theory only when a causal explanatory framework is included in it. we claim that young children before schooling can apply a non-intentional causality in explaining biological phenomena. a tendency The activity is often described as a transmission or exchange of the “vital force”. Gellert. because they are ignorant of physiological mechanisms involved. This concerns the third component of their biological knowledge. which might bc called “vitalistic causality”. a specific bodily system enables a person. “agency” (i. which has. Young children cannot give articulated mechanical explanations when asked to explain biological phenomena (e. Intentional causality means that a person’s intention causes the target phenomenon.” humans differentially according to the types of situations.. It seems inevitable to accept this claim so long as we assume only two types of causalities.e. Here the type of causality. and the person analogy may be misleading knowledge to check analogy-based predictions. as represented by Carey (1985). children generate reasonable predictions. These findings apparently support the claim that young children do not yet have biology as an autonomous domain. that is. intentional or nonintentional. These children may rely on this intermediate form of causality. On the contrary. grasshopper knowledge for the “caretaker’s will about Generally analogies in a constrained whet-c they lack biological death” question of the “compatible” situation. way. .g. However.. to initiate and sustain behaviors).

” The 6-year-olds chose vitalistic explanations as most plausible most often. as the number of these children was small. The three explanations represented intentional. 1993. for example. and by assigning their activities global life-sustaining characters. respectively. by assuming it or its components to be human-like (Ohmori. though they were more apt to adopt intentional causality than the 8-year-olds or adults. young children try to understand the workings of internal bodily organs by regarding them as humanlike (but non-communicative) agents.G. Experiment 2) predicted that even if young children could not apply mechanical causality. We (Inagaki & Hatano. such as. In Inagaki and Hatano (1990) some of the children of ages 5-8 gave explanations referring to something like vital force as a mediator when given novel questions about bodily processes. and another child. what the halt of blood circulation would cause. or information. they will die. they would prefer vitalistic explanations to intentional ones for bodily processes when asked to choose one from among several possibilities. S-year-olds. An example question on blood circulation with three alternative explanations was as follows: “Why do we take in air? (a) Because we want to feel good [intentional]. Inagaki I Cognition 50 (1994) 171-188 177 which can be conceptualized as unspecified substance. K. Hatano. (b) Because our chest takes in vital power from the air [vitalistic]. vitalistic and mechanical causality. such as blood circulation and breathing. which results in vitalistic causality for bodily processes. . This vitalistic causality is probably derived from a general mechanism of personification. energy. 1985). One who has no means for observing the opaque inside or details of the target object often tries to understand it in a global fashion. “If blood does not come to the hands. because energies fade away if blood does not come there. (c) Because the lungs take in oxygen and change it into useless carbon dioxide [mechanical]. It should be noted that the 6-year-olds applied non-intentional (vitalistic plus mechanical) causalities 75% of the time. With increasing age the subjects came to choose mechanical explanations most often. and if they could not generate vitalistic causal explanations for themselves. we did another experiment to induce children to choose a plausible explanation out of the presented ones. they chose them 54% of the time. Hence. Vitalistic causality is clearly different from person-intentional causality in the sense that the organ’s activities inducing the phenomenon are independent of the intention of the person who possesses the organ. “We wouldn’t be able to move our hands.” However. We can see a similar mode of explanation in the Japanese endogenous science before the Meiji restoration (and the beginning of her rapid modernization). We asked 6-year-olds. because the blood does not carry energies to them”. one child said. and college students as subjects to choose one from three possible explanations each for six biological phenomena.

both seem to afford valid perspectives of the biological world. whereas the vitalistic is concerned more with the how or the process. because it is functional. Hatuno. which refers only to the necessity. Experiments 3 and 3a). only 20% opted for (b) “Because Tare’s revealed by an example entered the 6-year-olds [intentional heart urged him to go near her” [vitalistic]. In sum. What. For biological phenomenon questions . to the agency of a bodily organ or part. One interpretation is that they are essentially the same idea with different emphases-the teleological concerns more the why or the cause. in making predictions for reactions of familiar animate entities to novel situations. contrary to Carey (1985). it is closer to mechanical causality than is the teleological one.178 G. and elaborated. The following is question for such behavior used in the study: “When a pretty girl room. Young ena. Anyway. 1992)? Both are certainly in between the intentional and the mechanical. because the vitalistic explanation refers to activity of the responsible organ or bodily part (implicitly for sustaining life).almost the same as those used in Experiment 2 of Inagaki and Hatano (1993) except for excluding the mechanical causal explanation -they tended to choose vitalistic explanations rather than intentional ones. is optional not needed for survival. we can conclude from the above findings that children as young as 6 years of age possess three essential components of biology. This is taken for granted. Inagaki I Cognition 50 (1YW) 171-1Xx which had evolved children seldom with medicine and agriculture as its core (Hatano only for biological which & Inagaki.‘7” Eighty per cent of the chose (a) “Because whereas Taro wanted to become a friend of hers” explanation]. Taro came near her. Why did he do so. maintained. phenomand 1987). for example. it is useful in everyday biological problem solving. as Inagaki and Hatano (1993. and for propertics and behaviors of unfamiliar entities. K. First. children before schooling have acquired a form of biology differentiated from psychology. then. Functions of naive biology The personifying and vitalistic biology that young children have is adaptive in nature in their everyday life. is the relationship between the vitahstic explanation for biological phenomena and the teleological-functional explanation for biological properties (Keil. because naive biology includes constrained personification as a general mode of inference for biological phenomena and about biological kinds. In other words. Another interpretation is that. we believe that naive biology is formed. Since a human being is a kind of living . it will be intriguing to examine these explanations in concrete excharacterizations of young children’s “biological” perimental studies. They seem to rely on vitalistic attribute causality social-psychological behavior. In other words.

” In this sense. necessarily accurate. the children were asked to tell how to raise a squirrel to another lady. she concluded: “Flowers are like people. Hatano and Inagaki (1991b) p resented to 6-year-olds three bodily phenomena of a squirrel. Inagaki and Kasetani (1994) examined whether inducing the person analogy. Inagaki I Cognition 50 (1994) 171-188 179 entity. Hatano. they will fall down of hunger. and asked them to guess a cause for each phenomenon. also enables young to make sense of biological phenomena they observe in their daily lives. The experimental group children. chestnuts. and getting older and weaker). for example. or ice cream?” They were thus required to choose an alternative and to give the reason. Based on accumulated experience with raising flowers. which can also be observed for humans (being constipated. At the same time. or even discover. If flowers eat nothing (are not watered). The description included several references to humans in the experimental condition but not in the control condition. though not The person analogies in young children’s biology are especially useful. naive biology is useful because it helps children learn meaningfully. especially for advanced animals. They were asked questions by this lady. Third. “What kind of food might I give a squirrel? Favorite chestnuts only. For example. irrespective of age. would enhance 5 and 6-year-olds’ comprehension of raising procedures of a squirrel. About a half of them explicitly referred to humans at least once in their causal attributions for a squirrel. 1991). Our favorite example is a 5-year-old girl’s statement reported by Motoyoshi (1979). gave more often adequate . naive biology the target objects.g. “A squirrel became weaker because it did not eat chestnuts”). Naive biology provides young children with a conceptual tool for interpreting bodily phenomena of other animals as well as humans. procedures for taking care of animals and plants as well as themselves in everyday life. children as revealed by Inagaki and Second. they will be taken ill. You eat a variety of food. predictions. the use of the person analogy can often produce reasonable.. The subjects were aurally given the description of the procedures while watching pictures visualizing them. diarrhea. and relying on her naive biology. seeds and vegetables mixed. about the necessity of giving a variety of food to a squirrel. About three-quarters of them on the average could offer some reasonable causes. young children’s naive biology constitutes what Keil (1992) calls a mode of construal. If they eat too much (are watered too often). the experimenter indicated. Global understanding of internal bodily functions is enough for such purposes. and also judge the plausibility of causes suggested by the experimenter. “You do not eat favorite food only. however.G. some of their expressions strongly suggest that they edited or adapted to this animal those responses obtained by the person analogy (e. don’t you?” After listening to the description of all procedures. K. a critical component of naive biological knowledge. because they are constrained by the perceived similarity of the target objects to humans and also by specific Hatano knowledge regarding (1987.

You must give a squirrel plenty of seeds and carrots. 19%). and after group discussion they produced an idea of making the rabbit take medicine for diarrhea as a suffering person would. It should also be noted that naive biological knowledge is seldom applied “mechanically”.reasons for their correct choices than the control ones. the mode of inference. . 199Ob). Moreover. Children’s naive biology is not an exception. and causality-are promptly and effortlessly retrieved and used to generate more or less plausible ideas. For instance. since they do not need to take care of their health nor try to find food themselves. In fact in our study described above (Inagaki & Hatano. because we have not examined whether much younger subjects too possess a form of biology.” An anecdotal but impressive example of the discovery of a procedure for coping with trouble with a raised animal is reported by Motoyoshi (lY79). When children acquire an autonomous domain of biology is still an open question for us. when they observed unusual of a rabbit they were taking care of every day. Children excretion aged 5 in a day care center inferred that. Their personifying and vitalistic biology seems to be triggered almost automatically whenever children come into contact with novel phenomena which they recognize as “biological” (Inagaki. 1987) it was very rare that the children gave no prediction or the “I don’t know” answer to our questions which wcrc somewhat unusual. This early acquisition of biology is not surprising from the pcrspcctivc of human evolution. both in individual problem solving and in social interaction. Speaking gcncrally. procedural or conceptual knowledge about the target to generate a reasonable answer. though their superiority in the number of correct choices was significant only for the younger subjects. Young children’s naive biology is functional partly because its componentspieces of knowledge. 1980: Inagaki & Hatano. “Don’t feed chestnuts only. so most everyday knowledge is readily used. Acquisition of naive biology As already mentioned. As mentioned earlier. we think that the acquisition of biology comes a littlc later than that of physics or psychology. because a person will die if he eats the same kind of food only. children constrain their analogies by factual. 1992) and also knowlcdgc about our bodily functions and health (Hatano. WC believe. because it has been essential for our species to have some knowledge about animals and plants as potential foods (Wellman & Gelman. our experimental data strongly suggest that children as young as 6 years of age have acquired a form of biology. it might be suffering from diarrhea like a person. making an educated guess by applying insufficient knowlcdgc is often rewarded in everyday life. and so will it. one S-year-old child said. Infants seldom riced biological knowledge. However.

they attribute agency and some related human properties but not others (e. A set of specific innate or very early cognitive constraints is probably another important factor in the acquisition of naive biology. 1984). 1987. this cannot directly serve as the basis for the living-non-living Cognitive buses of naive biology Whether naive biology gradually emerges out of naive psychology (Carey. It is likely that even very young children have tendencies to attribute a specific physical reaction to a specific class of events. it is plausible that they apply the person analogy to bodily organs in that way. 1992) is still debatable. Though capacity Harding. into an integrated category of living things.g. & Sexton. our modified replication study on the controllability of internal bodily functions suggests that 3-year-olds are not sure whether the workings of bodily organs are beyond their control (Inagaki & Suzuki. constrained way (Inagaki & Hatano.. preschool children have some understanding of the distinction between the biological and the social-psychological. such as that diarrhea is caused by eating something poisonous. Hatano. Carlson. Our own speculation about how young children acquire personifying and vitalistic biology through everyday life experiences is as follows. when given the biological context. who were given the same attribution questions without context. and thus has to apply an intermediate form of causality between the intentional and plants. initiate and maintain activity without external forces) but can hardly communicate with us humans. 4-year-olds’ inductions about animals. distinction. They also through personification generalize this global understanding of the body to other living things. giving the social-psychological context to 4-year-olds did not affect the inductions they made. they will try to achieve “global understanding” by personifying an organ or bodily part. the ability to communicate) to these organs. as Keil argues. Considering that young children use analogies in a selective. there is some evidence that even infants can distinguish objects having a for self-initiated movement from those not having it (e.. 1985) or is a distinct theory or mode of construal from the start (Keil. 1991.g. Vosniadou. and mechanical. for example. K. are going on inside the body. In fact. uncontrolled by their intention. It is true that. 1989).e. These tendencies enhance not only their rejection of intentional . Children notice through somatosensation that several “events”. too. Autonomous biology also requires to include animals which appear so different. resembled those previously found for 7-year-olds. In Vera and Keil (1988). Golinkoff. lnagaki I Cognition 50 (1994) 171-188 181 autonomous biology has to deal with entities which have agency (i. young children may overestimate the controllability of bodily processes by will or intention. More specifically. Since children cannot see the inside of the body. 1991).. However.G.

However. Some such experiences are also universal in human ways of living. p. psychological. though it Activity-based experiences We are willing to admit that. as suggested by Atran (1990). there must be some core elements in naive biology that are shared among individuals within and between cultures. because they understand but this does not mean it is purely the mind-body distinction to some extent. being happy and others in addition to agency) to bodily organs (Hatano & Inagaki.e.. To sum up. and specific cognitive constraints. as well as their knowledge about humans. a frog).g. For example. plants or even inanimate objects (e. which “fit nicely with biology” (Keil. More interestingly. 1992. factual and conceptual knowledge about goldfish. it will be possible for them to acquire a rich body of knowledge about them. unpublished study) as well as to less advanced animals. one that they had never raised. “No. is autonomous. Although these two groups of children did not differ in factual knowledge about typical animals in general. it is suggested that they sometimes overattribute human mental properties (not communication ability. the goldfish-raisers used the knowledge about goldfish as a source for analogies in predicting reactions of an unfamiliar “aquatic” animal (i. Inagaki I Cognition SO (1994) 171-18X causality for bodily phenomena but also their construction of young animals’ of more specific beliefs to make inferences and about bodily processes. and produced reasonable predictions with some explanations for it. Inagaki early naive biology is “psychological”. as a source for analogical predictions and explanations for other biological kinds. we would like to emphasize that this condition does not mean children’s activity-based experiences do not contribute to the acquisition. & Sugiyama. For example. we can’t. but working hard. . Inagaki (1990a) compared the biological knowledge of kindergarteners who had actively engaged in raising goldfish for an extended period at home with that of children of the same age who had never raised any animal. because a frog will grow bigger as goldfish grew bigger. is based on personification. In this scnsc. K. but others may vary and thus produce differently instantiated versions of naive biology. and therefore to use that body of knowledge.182 G. one of the raisers answered. because of the above general mechanism of personification and the resultant vitalistic causality. that the ability as well as about children and plants’ properties behaviors. Hatano. However. Our studies have in fact revealed that such an activity may produce a slightly different version of naive biology from the ordinary one. we believe about bodily processes. if children are actively engaged in raising animals. the goldfish-raisers had much richer procedural. 1988).. 105). when asked whether we could keep a baby frog in the same size forever.

that is. (b) lack of inferences based on complex. Moreover.g. “photosynthesis”). to children aged from 4 to 10 and college students. but incorporating them meaningfully into the existing body of knowledge can usually be achieved only with the restructuring of that knowledge. 1991. and (d) lack of some conceptual devices (e.e. Inagaki i Cognition 50 (1994) 171-188 183 My goldfish were small before. raising goldfish modifies young children’s between humans and that the experience of inferences. Inagaki and Sugiyama (1988) examined how young children’s human-centered or “similarity-based” inference would change as they grew older..G. toward a biology which relies on category-based inferences and rejects intentional causal explanations.. though schooling may have some general facilitative effects on it. We assume that this change is almost universal. Goldfish-raisers which are shared by humans (e. It is expected that.g.. hierarchically organized biological categories.” It might be added that the goldfish-raisers tended to use person analogies as well as goldfish analogies for a frog. hierarchically organized biological categories and of mechanical causality requires a theory change or conceptual change (i. and that it can occur without systematic instruction in biology. The use of inferences based on complex. but now they are big. 1992). their personifying and vitalistic biology will gradually change toward truly “non-psychological” (if not scientific) biology by eliminating the above weaknesses (b) and (c). see also children tended to enlarge their attributed excreting) Hatano & previously animal not only narrow conception of animals. Let us list some major ones: (a) limited factual knowledge. phylogenetically This suggests to goldfish but also to a majority of animals goldfish at a higher rate than non-raisers. “evolution”. having a heart. such as “Does X have a property Y?“. Hatano. preferred mode of biological Theory changes in biological understanding So far we have emphasized strengths of young children’s naive biology. They gave attribution questions. in another study Inagaki. Whether the acquisition of basic conceptual devices in scientific or school biology is accompanied by a theory change is not beyond dispute. Results indicated that there was a progression from 4-year-olds’ predominant reliance on similarity-based attribution (attributing . In other words. as children grow older. whereas the accumulation of more and more factual knowledge can be achieved by enrichment only. at least among children growing up in highly technological societies. What weaknesses does it have? Its weaknesses are obvious even when compared with intuitive biology in lay adults. goldfish-raising possessed properties (Kondo & Inagaki. fundamental restructuring of knowledge). K. (c) lack of mechanical causality. the goldfish-raisers could use two sources for making analogical predictions.

and that. Hatano. These results suggest that young children’s biology is qualitatively different from the biology that older children and adults have. in accordance with Carey’s claim. Much of the research inspired by Piaget has shown parallels among the biological understanding of children in different cultures. However.. what such core beliefs are is debatable. This shift is induced amount of knowledge but also by the development evaluating more highly Inagaki. Another important change may occur as a result of the learning of scientific biology at school. In order to be able to reason “scientifically” in biology one needs to know its basic concepts and principles . the usefulness 1989). The distinctions between animals and terrestrial inanimate objects are particularly strong. Inagaki. Inagaki I Cognition SO (19944) 171-188 human properties in proportion to perceived similarity between target objects and humans) to adults’ predominant reliance on category-based ing by relying on the higher-order category membership category-attribute associations). this change is hard to achieve and thus occurs only among a limited portion of older children or adolescents. of higher-order attribution (attributof the targets and not only by an increased of metacognitive beliefs categories (Hatano & In contrast to young children’s vitalistic. it may be possible to find the “common sense” or core beliefs shared by all forms of folk biology and even by scientific biology. contrary to her claim. . and thus may accept the false analogy of mapping water for plants with food for animals. because children as young as 6 years of age already possess a form of biology. the difference between 6-year-olds and 8-year-olds was larger than the difference between 8-year-olds and adults in terms of preference for mechanical explanations and avoidance of intentional ones. In Experiment 2 of Inagaki and Hatano’s (1993) study. this change is characterized not as the differentiation of biology from psychology but as a qualitative change within the autonomous domain of biology. if one does not know the phenomenon of photosynthesis. and which aspects are not? As suggested by Atran (1990). For example. K. intentional explanations for bio- logical phenomena and are inclined to use mechanical causality exclusively.184 G. older children reject and sometimes even intentional. We assume that. Universality of naive biology Which aspects of naive biology are universal. However. 1991a.e. unlike the first theory change. However. biological explanations. plants can produce nutriment themselves).major conceptual devices which cannot be acquired without intervention. one will not be able to understand the difference between animals and plants (i. there occurs a conceptual change in biological understanding between ages 4 and 10.

feels pain). At the same time. unobservable animal attributes (e. it is at least not a silly idea for Japanese to assign life or divinity not only to plants but also to inanimate objects. 2nd. plants and non-living things. as predicted from cultural analyses. For example. especially big or old ones. and least accurate regarding plants. plants.and 4th-graders from Israel.. Japanese culture includes a belief that plants are much like human beings. with different properties. were considerably more likely to attribute to inanimate objects properties that are unique to living things. 1984.g. grows bigger). classified plants either as non-living things or as falling within a things that are neither living nor non-living. has a heart). In Japanese folk psychology. whose overall accuracy was comparable to the Israeli. other animals. Inagaki and Sugiyama (1988) reported that some Japanese preschoolers extended mental properties even to inanimate objects without movement or function.. Richards & Siegler. The kanji (Chinese character) representing it has a prototypal meaning of “fresh” or “perishable” as well as . Children in all cultures knew that people. such as stones. Stavy and Wax (1989) showed that about half of a sample of 6-12-year-olds. Israeli children were considerably more likely not to attribute to plants properties that are shared by all living things. Inagaki I Cognition 50 (1994) 171-188 185 the biological most striking understanding observed in different cultures of the differences thus far reported concerns is not identical. somewhat less accurate regarding other animals and inanimate objects. The children were asked whether two instances each of four object types (people.g. whereas Japanese children. In addition. studies life or & Dolgin America properties that young living-thing to any terrestrial Behrend. children inanimate Whereas seldom objects recent attribute (e.g. (1993) tried to differentiate between universal and culturally specific aspects of children’s conceptions of life and understanding of attributes of living things.. other animals. plants and inanimate objects) possessed each of 16 attributes that included life status (being alive).. This attitude is represented by the Buddhist idea that even a tree or blade of grass has a mind. Japan and the United States. K. Beliefs about third category: inanimate conducted other objects in North also may differ indicate between cultures. even inanimate objects are sometimes considered to have minds. 1984).G. when asked to judge the life status of animals. Hatano et al. and attributes true of all living things (e.g. The results illustrate both similarities and differences across cultures in children’s biological understanding. and were extremely accurate regarding humans. Hatano. by comparing kindergarteners. and inanimate objects were different types of entities. These differences are especially interesting because they suggest that children’s naive biology is influenced by beliefs within the culture where they grow up. linguistic factors seem to influence Japanese children’s attributional judgements. Consider why Japanese children might be more likely than children in the United States or Israel to view plants or inanimate objects as alive and having attributes of living things. sensory attributes (e. The ideas about plants of children in Israel.

though they do not usually tell their children this explicitly. This cultural attitude parallels 1: 30). history: Toward. Therefore. but also. their cultural beliefs. How culture influences the development of biological understanding has yet to be studied. Cognitive foundations of natural Cambridge. this kanji can be applied to cake. What is urgently needed now is (a) to integrate nativistic and cultural accounts of acquisition and change in naive biology. a better understanding of fundamental issues in the developmental studies on cognition.r an anthropology of science. Inagaki. young children’s naive biology has been an exciting topic for research in cognitive development. perishable goods. sauce. theories. like the nature of domains. schools and mass media may serve to transmit cultural beliefs. 1992. well known to Israeli students. 1989). S. etc. not only has a richer database been built and finer conceptualizations offered about this specific issue. wine. 199Oa). Japanese parents may communicate the attitude through their actions toward plants and divine inanimate objects. As more and more ambitious researchers have joined to study it.. has been achieved. Culture may provide children with opportunities to engage in activities that lead them to construct some particular biological understanding. K. Hatano. It will probably be a popular topic for the coming several years. (IYYO). 1990). and other Similar features of culture and language may account for Israeli less apt than American or Japanese children to attribute to plants properties of living things. Postscript Since Carey (19SS). Parents. or perhaps reflecting. In contrast the word for *‘plant” has no obvious relation to such terms (Stavy & Wax.1X6 G. through attempts to answer questions like the ones discussed so far in this article. UK: Cambridge University Press. lnagaki I Cognition SO (1904) 171-l&% “alive”. as in the case of children raising goldfish (Hatano & Inagaki. constraints. Adding to. For example. . References Atran. indicating for living things including animals. the Hebrew word for “animal” is very close to that for “living” and”alive”. and (b) to find commonalities and differences between naive biology and other major theories of the world possessed by young children (Hatano. birds and children being life status and that within the Israeli and other animals in passage (Genesis that of a biblical that plants were created as food insects. Stavy and Wax (1989) suggested culture plants are regarded as very different from humans their life status. and research questions about naive biology can be better answered and/or better rephrased.

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