This study examined the development of children’s reasoning about the afterlife and its relationship with parental afterlife beliefs and testimony. A total of 123 children aged 5, 7, and 10 years were read a story describing the events that led to a person’s death. After hearing the story, children were asked questions about the dead agent’s biological, perceptual, epistemic-volitional, and emotional states and about the agent’s capacity to engage in conscious mental activity. Parents completed a scale assessing the strength of their afterlife beliefs and a questionnaire examining aspects of parental discourse with children about death and the deceased. The results showed that, with age, children become more accurate at predicting the cessation of biological functions, perceptual states, and mental activity. However, children at all ages were reluctant to claim the cessation of epistemic-volitional and emotional states. Parents’ afterlife beliefs and discourse about death and the afterlife were not related to children’s afterlife responses. Our findings converge with the view that children’s afterlife reasoning is grounded on cognitive mechanisms and may be less amenable to sociocultural input.


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pp. 290-318
Launched on MUSE
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