Body and soul: Do children distinguish between foods when generalizing biological and psychological properties?

Jean Pierre Thibaut, Simone P. Nguyen, Gregory L. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research Findings: In 2 experiments, we tested whether children generalize psychological and biological properties to novel foods. We used an induction task in which a property (either biological or psychological) was associated with a target food. Children were then asked whether a taxonomically related and a script-related food would also have the property. In a yes/no task (Experiment 1) 9-year-olds preferentially generalized the property to taxonomically related foods, but 4- and 6-year-olds did not. In a forced-choice task (Experiment 2; 4- to 6-year-olds), children preferred the taxonomic choice over the script choice. This preference was weak at age 4 but established by age 5. In both experiments, and all age groups, biological properties, and psychological properties were treated similarly. It is argued that the children do not distinguish biological and psychological properties of food most likely because they believe that psychological properties are caused by biological dispositions. Practice or Policy: We argue that nutrition education should take advantage of children’s existing knowledge of food categories and how children generalize knowledge from 1 food to another. In particular, children have good knowledge of taxonomic categories and can best access that knowledge when they are required to compare different foods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1250-1262
Number of pages13
JournalEarly Education and Development
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 16 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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