The scientists said their findings contradict the consensus that younger children adopt an anthropocentric pattern of reasoning -- interpreting reality in terms of human values and experiences.
Researchers from Northwestern University in Illinois and the Menominee Language and Culture Commission in Wisconsin studied children living in Chicago and children living in rural Wisconsin, including children from European-American and Menominee tribal communities.
The scientists found a human-centered pattern of reasoning among urban children but not among the rural European-American and Menominee children. The researchers said the reasoning of children about the natural world was apparently influenced by the extent of their day-to-day interactions with the natural world and by their sensitivity to the belief systems of their communities.
As one example, the investigators noted while children are taught in school that only plants and animals are alive, Menominee children believe rocks and water are also alive.
The researchers said their findings might change science's views of how children reason about biology.
Northwestern Professor Sandra Waxman, a co-author of the study, said: "It may, in fact, reflect a cultural model that is prevalent in the media for young children. For example, stories and films in which animals talk, sing and act like humans."
The research appears in the journal Cognitive Development.
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