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Language Defies Logic? Naming Practices Trump Logical Consistency for Indonesian Adults

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In English, ‘animal’ applies to humans and non-human animals, but in Indonesian, the word (‘hewan’) does not apply to humans. Previous research has shown that English-speaking children were more likely than Indonesian-speaking children to agree that mammals are animals (age 6) and humans are mammals (age 9). As adults, Indonesian speakers accepted these statements, but denied that humans are animals. Thus, adults’ judgments were intransitive. In the present work, Indonesian-speaking children and adults were asked to revisit their judgments about biological categories following exposure to three-dimensional objects as an analog for class-inclusion relationships. The results were striking: While most of the children changed their judgments after the analogical prompt to agree that humans are mammals and humans are animals, the adults stayed with their initial judgments that were collectively illogical but consistent with their naming practice. These results suggest a complex interplay between naming, logical thinking and development.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, College of the Holy Cross1 College Street, Worcester, MA


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