This experiment considers young children’s construals of biological phenomena and the forces that shape them, using Carey’s category-based induction task that demonstrated anthropocentric reasoning in young urban children. Previous followup work questioning the generality of her results (including our own) has employed quite different procedures and either has not included urban children or, when urban samples were included, has failed to reproduce her original findings. In the current experiment, our procedures followed Carey’s more closely and replicated her findings with young urban children, but yielded quite different results for young rural European American and young rural Native American children. These results underscore the importance of a complex interaction of culture and experience — including both day-to-day interactions with the natural world and sensitivity to the belief systems of their communities — in children’s reasoning about the natural world.
It is important that our theories of development be sufficiently comprehensive to accommodate evidence from the range of communities in which children are raised, and the breadth of community-held beliefs that figure centrally in each. This is not simply a call for methodological consistency or for broader and more representative sampling. It is also a petition to consider carefully the contribution of the child’s culture and experience as they acquire systems for reasoning about the biological world.