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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Children's and adults' understanding of the persistence of individual artifacts Marchak, Kristan Allison


Artifacts are ubiquitous in our lives, and we routinely face the task of tracking them through spatiotemporal and qualitative change. How people reason about the identity of individual artifacts through such changes is not well understood. This dissertation reports nine studies that sought to illuminate human reasoning about individual artifact persistence. Studies 1 to 4 examined whether people's attributions of individual persistence to artifacts depend on the maintenance of the objects' kind. Neither children nor adults systematically judged artifacts to be the same individuals following kind-altering transformations. In contrast, 7-year-olds and adults, but not 5-year-olds, judged animals to be the same individuals following such changes. The findings reveal increasing domain specificity in the importance of maintained kind membership for attributions of individual persistence to artifacts. Studies 5 to 8 explored whether the linguistic expression used to label an artifact affects people's judgments of persistence. Participants learned about scenarios involving a complete part-by-part transformation of an artifact, followed by the reassembly of the original parts to create a second artifact. When the pre-transformation artifact was labeled with a proper name, 5- to 7-year-olds and adults extended the expression to only one post-transformation object, indicating a belief that names pick out artifacts as unique individuals. When the same artifact was labeled with a description, however, people extended the expression to as many objects as matched the description, suggesting a belief that descriptions pick out artifacts in a different manner – namely, as instances of a kind with particular properties. Study 9 assessed whether an artifact's history (being owned by a celebrity or a non-celebrity) influences adults' reasoning about its persistence. Participants read scenarios involving the type of transformation presented in Studies 5 to 8. We found that an artifact's history increased adults' ascriptions of its persisting worth, but it did not influence judgments of its persisting identity. By explicating how people reason about individual artifact persistence, these studies advance our understanding of several broad issues about human cognition, including the nature of our concepts, the influence of language on cognition, and the effects of social factors (i.e., an artifact's history) on conceptual representation.

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