British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 13 Issue 4 (November 1995), Pages 321-432

Do computers have brains? What children believe about intelligent artifacts (pages 367-377)

Children's understanding of intelligent artifacts such as computers and robots poses an interesting problem. Such objects display ‘cognitive’ features in that they have a memory and could be said to reason, as well as behavioural features such as speech and movement (robots). We report the attributional judgements of 5‐ to 11‐year‐old children to a person, robot, computer, doll and book—objects with differential anthropomorphic similarity. Specific questions were: (1) would subjects be prepared to attribute a brain to intelligent artifacts? (2) what kinds of cues were relevant? (3) where was the brain located? (4) what was the brain made of? Subjects of all ages gave accurate attributions for the presence of brain to the person, to the book and, after 5, to the doll. Five‐year‐olds were unwilling to attribute a brain to both intelligent artifacts but older children typically did so. Location and composition data show a gradual development of accuracy. The results indicate that, by 7, children have some understanding of the intelligent nature of the artifacts.

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