Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

What Does It Mean To Be Alive?

Date:
April 29, 2008
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
Understanding the concept of a "living thing" is a late developmental achievement. New research proposes that the way in which "alive" and other biological concepts are named within a given language shapes their understanding and acquisition in children.

Understanding the concept of a “living thing” is a late developmental achievement. Early research by Jean Piaget, showed that kids attribute “life status” to things that move on their own (e.g. clouds or bikes) and even 10-year-olds have difficulty understanding the scope of a living thing.

Related Articles


New research, supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, proposes that the way in which “alive” and other biological concepts are named within a given language shapes their understanding and acquisition in children.

Northwestern University psychologist Florencia Anggoro, with colleagues Sandra Waxman and Doug Medin, compared 4-9-year-old children speaking English and Indonesian, a pair of languages with an intriguing difference. In English, but not Indonesian, the name “animal” is polysemous, or has more than one meaning: one sense includes all animate objects (as in, the animal kingdom); the other excludes humans (as in, ‘don’t eat like an animal!’).

This polysemy, the researchers say, can make it difficult for children to identify with any precision the scope of the names and their underlying concepts. If this is the case, then children learning a language without this polysemy should have less difficulty. Indonesian provides an ideal test: the word “animal” is not ambiguous; it refers exclusively to non-human animals.

To test this theory in the laboratory, Anggoro, who is now at the University of Chicago, and colleagues asked both Indonesian-speaking children and English-speaking children to identify entities that are “alive” in a simple sorting task. Indonesian-speaking children, tested in Jakarta, exhibited little trouble; they selected both plants and animals. But, English-speaking children, tested in Chicago, had trouble settling on the scope of the concept, and even at 9 years of age tended to exclude plants. Thus, the term “alive” poses unique interpretive challenges, especially for English-speaking children.

These results, which appear in the April issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, offer insights into how knowledge is shaped by language. The results also have strong implications for education, “understanding the conceptual consequences of language differences will serve as an effective tool in our efforts to advance the educational needs of children, including (but not limited to) those from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds who are now enrolled in U.S. schools” says Anggoro.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "What Does It Mean To Be Alive?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 April 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080428104529.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2008, April 29). What Does It Mean To Be Alive?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080428104529.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "What Does It Mean To Be Alive?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080428104529.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

Researchers Test Colombian Village With High Alzheimer's Rates

AFP (Dec. 19, 2014) In Yarumal, a village in N. Colombia, Alzheimer's has ravaged a disproportionately large number of families. A genetic "curse" that may pave the way for research on how to treat the disease that claims a new victim every four seconds. Duration: 02:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Prenatal Exposure To Pollution Might Increase Autism Risk

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) Harvard researchers found children whose mothers were exposed to high pollution levels in the third trimester were twice as likely to develop autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins