The development of biological knowledge: A multi-national study

Giyoo Hatano, Robert S. Siegler*, D. Dean Richards, Kayoko Inagaki, Ruth Stavy, Naomi Wax

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study was designed to differentiate between universal and culturally specific aspects of children's biological understanding. Kindergartners, second graders, and fourth graders from Israel, Japan, and the United States were asked whether people, other animals, plants, and inanimate objects possessed each of 16 attributes. The attributes included life, unobservable attributes of animals, sensory capacities, and attributes of all living things. The results indicated that children of all three ages in all three countries knew that people, other animals, plants, and inanimate entities were different types of things, with different properties. Children in all cultures were extremely accurate regarding properties of humans, somewhat less accurate regarding properties of other animals and inanimate entities, and least accurate regarding properties of plants. As predicted from cultural analyses, Israeli children were the most likely to fail to attribute to plants qualities that are shared by all living things. Also as predicted, Japanese children were the most likely to attribute to inanimate entities attributes possessed only by living things. In contrast to many previous findings, U.S. children in the study presented here displayed more accurate scientific knowledge than age peers in Japan or Israel. The results were analyzed in terms of how cultural beliefs and linguistic categories affect knowledge acquisition processes and scientific understandings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-62
Number of pages16
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1993


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