Department of Psychology
Past research has shown that children as young as age 3 years are able to distinguish the difference between mental entities and real objects (Estes, Wellman, & Woolley, 1989). Yet, many children still display persistent fears of imaginary creatures, which they claim are not real. In the present study, a replication-extension of P. Harris, E. Brown, C. Marriott, S. Whittall, and S. Harmer (1991), the researcher examined children's perceptions of imaginary creatures through a brief interview. Children were asked to pretend there existed either a monster or a rabbit in one of two large boxes. Children were then left alone to investigate the boxes, while their behavior was videotaped in the experimenter's absence. The children were then asked questions about their actions upon the experimenter's return. Unlike the original, the present study was modified to include the group of children who did not respond to the boxes in the experimenter's absence. The videotapes were coded by an individual blind to the purpose of the study, and nonresponding children's behavior was grouped into one of six No-Response categories (Obedient, Scared, Uninterested/Don't Care, Confused, Unsure of Novel Situation, and Certain the Box is Empty). When asked at the outset, a significant number of children specified they were just pretending about the reality of the creature. Yet during the experimenter's absence, a significant number of children in the monster condition exhibited behavior characterized as Scared. Other significant No-Response categories included Uninterested/Don't Care, Unsure of Novel Situation, and Certain the Box is Empty. Of those children who investigated the boxes, the pretend box was approached significantly more quickly than the neutral box. Upon the experimenter's return, almost half of the children had changed their minds about the presence of a creature in the box and admitted to wondering if a creature actually existed in the box. Lastly, a significant number of children in the present study believed a creature could be generated through pretending. While not everything is consistent with the original study, the present study supports the basic tenets of Harris et al. (1991) and even goes a step further by showing a significant number of children who believe a creature can be generated through pretending. In addition, many children displayed fear or uncertainty about the contents of the box, and often admitted this to the experimenter. Children seem to be tempted to believe in things which they have only pretended are real.
Education | Psychology
Easton, Elizabeth, "Things That Go Bump in the Night: An Examination of Magical Thinking in Young Children" (1995). Masters Theses & Specialist Projects. Paper 906.