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Children's Acceptance of Conflicting Testimony: The Case of Death

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Children aged 7 and 11 years were interviewed about death in the context of two different narratives. Each narrative described the death of a grandparent but one narrative provided a secular context whereas the other provided a religious context. Following each narrative, children were asked to judge whether various bodily and mental processes continue to function after death, and to justify their judgment. Children displayed two different conceptions of death. They often acknowledged that functioning ceases at death and offered appropriate biological justifications for that judgment. However, they also claimed that functioning continues after death and offered appropriate religious justifications. The tendency to claim that functioning continues after death was more frequent among older children than younger children, more frequent in the context of the religious narrative as opposed to the secular narrative and more frequent with respect to mental processes than bodily processes. Particularly among older children, two distinct conceptions of death appear to co-exist: a biological conception in which death implies the cessation of living processes and a metaphysical conception in which death marks the beginning of the afterlife.


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