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Grownups Are Not Afraid of Scary Stuff, but Kids Are: Young Children’s and Adults’ Reasoning About Children’s, Infants’, and Adults’ Fears

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Three-, 5-, and 7-year-olds and adults (N= 64) listened to stories depicting 2 protagonists of different ages (infant and child or child and grownup) that encounter an entity that looks like a real (e.g., a snake) or an imaginary (e.g., a ghost) fear-inducing creature. Participants predicted and explained each protagonist’s intensity of fear. Results showed significant age-related increases in knowledge that infants and adults would experience less intense fears than young children and that people’s fears are causally linked to their cognitive mental states. Across age, stories involving imaginary beings elicited more frequent mental explanations for fear than stories about real creatures. Results are discussed in relation to children’s developing awareness of the mind as mediating between situations and emotions.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of California, Davis

Publication date: July 1, 2008


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