Children's beliefs about what it means to have a mind
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Children’s understanding of the mind and mental states has been studied extensively by Theory of Mind researchers. Important aspects of understanding the mind involve general beliefs about what the mind is, what it can do, and what sort of entities have minds. In two studies I investigated the types of attributes children and adults believe an object or entity must have in order to claim that the object or entity has a mind. In Study 1, children and adults were asked about physical, mental and emotional characteristics of a number of entities, including intelligent artifacts (e.g., robots and computers), social entities (e.g., people and animals) and inanimate objects (e.g., flowers). They were also asked whether each of these entities is alive, and whether each has a mind, brain and heart. Adults were asked the same questions in the form of a questionnaire. Similarities and differences between how social entities, intelligent artifacts and inanimate objects are conceptualized were evaluated. Specifically, patterns of responses were analyzed to determine which characteristics are most strongly vi associated with having a mind and a brain. The presence of a mind was most strongly associated with emotion, physical states, intentional behavior, advanced mental states, senses and sensations. The brain was most strongly associated with senses, sensations, physical states, intentional behavior, basic mental acts and advanced mental acts. In Study 2, children were presented with twelve unfamiliar “people, animals or things,” each of which was presented as having between one and three mind-related characteristics (cognitive, emotional, and interactive). For example, they may have been told that a mippit can think (cognitive) and feel happy (emotional). Children were asked whether each entity is alive, and whether each has a mind, brain and heart. Patterns of responses were analyzed to determine which attributes are most strongly associated with having a mind and a brain. It was found that children consider cognition, emotion and interaction as indicators of the presence of a mind and brain.