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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Preschoolers' use of abstract individual identity in inductive inference Rhemtulla, Mijke Toine


Children’s toys and books provide a rich arena for investigating conceptual flexibility, because they often can be understood to possess an individual identity at multiple levels of abstraction. For example, many toys (e.g., a stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh doll) can be construed either as characters from a fictional world, as physical objects in the real world, or as members of a kind. Similarly, books (e.g., a copy of The House at Pooh Corner) can be construed as instantiations of an abstract intellectual object, as individual physical objects, or as members of a kind. In 4 experiments, 155 4- and 5-year-olds participated in a property extension task, the results of which provide evidence of a rich understanding of multiply instantiated individuals. In Experiment 1, children understood that two representations of a fictional character share certain properties in virtue of their shared character identity, and this sharing does not stem simply from having the same name. In Experiment 2, children demonstrated sensitivity to property origins in making inferences about multiple representations of a fictional character, extending properties from one representation of a character to another when the property was acquired by the character but not when it was acquired by the representation. In Experiment 3, children displayed the same conceptual flexibility and sensitivity to property origins when reasoning about multiple copies of an abstract intellectual object. In Experiment 4, children distinguished kind-based inductive inference from character-based inference, extending properties from one representation of a character to a representation of another character of the same kind when properties were inborn but extending properties only to another representation of the same character when they were acquired by the character. In sum, the present findings revealed previously undocumented conceptual abilities in childhood. First, children use individual identity as well as kind identity as a basis for inferring shared properties. Second, children are sensitive to property origins, distinguishing properties that stem from an object’s identity as an instantiation of an abstract individual from those that stem from its discrete physical object identity and those that stem from its identity as an instance of a kind.

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