British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 23 Issue 4 (November 2005), Pages 487-660

The development of afterlife beliefs in religiously and secularly schooled children (pages 587-607)

Children aged from 4;10 to 12;9 attending either a Catholic school or a public, secular school in an eastern Spanish city observed a puppet show in which a mouse was eaten by an alligator. Children were then asked questions about the dead mouse's biological and psychological functioning. The pattern of results generally replicated that obtained earlier in an American sample, with older children being more apt to state that functions cease after death than younger children (11‐ to 12‐year‐olds > 8‐ to 9‐year‐olds > 5‐ to 6‐year‐olds), and all children being more likely to attribute epistemic, desire, and emotion states to the dead mouse than biological, psychobiological, and perceptual states. Although children attending Catholic school were generally more likely to state that functions continue after death than children attending secular school, the pattern of change with regard to question type did not differ between the Catholic and secular groups. The results were interpreted as reflecting the combined roles of religious instruction/exposure and universal ontogeny of cognitive abilities on the development of children's afterlife beliefs.

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