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Zafimaniry: An Understanding of What Is Passed on from Parents to Children: A Cross-Cultural Investigation

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Children (aged 7 to 16 years) and adults from a remote Zafimaniry village in eastern Madagascar were probed for their intuitive understanding of the biological inheritance of bodily features. They were told a story about a baby adopted at birth, and were asked whether, when grown, he would be more likely to resemble his birth parents or his adoptive parents in bodily traits, beliefs, preferences, temperaments, and skills. In spite of the fact that the Zafimaniry, like other Southeast Asian and Malagasy peoples, profess explicit beliefs concerning the fixation of individuals' properties that are at variance with Western folkbiology, Zafimaniry adults responded as do American adults on the task. Zafimaniry children, however, did not repond as did the adults, nor did they respond as did the majority of American children. Rather, they responded in the manner most consistent with what would be predicted, for children as well as for adults, from the ethnographic literature. That is, they tended to judge that an adopted boy would resemble his adoptive rather than his birth parents on virtually all traits, including bodily traits. The implications of these findings for current debates within cognitive science and anthropology are discussed.

Affiliations: 1: London School of Economics and CREA, Ecole Polytechnique (CNRS); 2: Massachusetts Institute of Technology and CREA, Ecole Polytechnique (CNRS); 3: New York University


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