Honors Theses

Date of Award

2017

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Stephanie Miller

Second Advisor

Steven Skultety

Relational Format

Dissertation/Thesis

Abstract

There is a debate in academic philosophy and psychology of whether or not children can or should do philosophy. Robert Kitchener asserts that due to cognitive limitations, children under the age of 10 cannot think philosophically (Kitchener, 1990). Murris (2000) challenges Kitchener's arguments and concludes that more research is needed. Further, this is a period during which children show individual differences and development in cognitive capacity, specifically within executive function relating to conscious control that may influence abstract thought (Zelazo et al., 1997). The present study assessed 7- to 9-year-olds' and adults' ability to answer philosophical questions in relation to a child-friendly story. We examined whether differences in executive function relate to adults' and children's ability to contemplate philosophical questions, what children's abilities looked like in comparison to adults, and whether prompting adults with questions related to issues of conformity and morality will influence their likelihood of conforming when presented with a later conformity task. We found that working memory and classification in college is related to higher philosophical scores in adults and vocabulary is related to higher philosophical scores in children. Despite differences in cognitive development, the children tested outperformed the adults on the philosophical reasoning task. The adults did not show differences between the non-philosophically questioned participants and the participants that received the philosophy questions on the conformity task. Our results support the theory that children, even those under the age of ten, can engage in philosophical discussion.

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