Teleological essentialism across development

Proceedings of the 44th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (forthcoming)
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Do young children have a teleological conception of the essence of natural kinds? We tested this by examining how the preservation or alteration of an animal’s purpose affected children’s persistence judgments (N = 40, ages 4 - 12, Mean Age = 7.04, 61% female). We found that even when surface-level features of an animal (e.g., a bee) were preserved, if the entity’s purpose changed (e.g., the bee now spins webs), children were more likely to categorize the entity as a member of a different natural kind (e.g., a spider) and these effects were similar in magnitude to altering the surface-features of a natural kind. Our results suggest that we might view teleological properties as partially constitutive of the essence of natural kinds.

Author Profiles

David Rose
Stanford University
Zachary Horne
Arizona State University
Shaun Nichols
Cornell University


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