This study aimed to identify the age by which children begin to demonstrate a biological understanding of the human body and the idea that the purpose of body functioning is to maintain life. The study also explored the influence of education, culturally specific experiences and religion on knowledge acquisition in this domain. Children aged between 4 and 7 years from three different cultural backgrounds (White British, British Muslim, and Pakistani Muslim) were interviewed about the human body and its functioning. At least half of the 4- to 5-year-olds in each cultural group, and almost all 6- to 7-year-olds, referred to the maintenance of life when explaining organs' functions and so were classified as ‘life theorizers’. Pakistani Muslim children gave fewer biological responses to questions about organs' functions and the purpose of eating and breathing, but referred to life more than their British counterparts. Irrespective of cultural group, older children understood organ location and function better than younger children. These findings support Jaakkola and Slaughter's (2002, Br. J. Dev. Psychol., 20, 325) view that children's understanding of the body as a ‘life machine’ emerges around the ages of 4–5 years. They also suggest that, despite many similarities in children's ideas cross-culturally, different educational input and culturally specific experiences influence aspects of their biological understanding.
- cultural influences
- children's understanding of the human body
- concept of life
- conceptual development