Children’s Developing Understanding of the Cognitive Abilities of Supernatural and Natural Minds

Evidence from Three Cultures


  • Emily Rachel Reed Burdett University of Nottingham
  • Justin L. Barrett Fuller Theological Seminary
  • Tyler S. Greenway Fuller Theological Seminary



God concepts, cultural learning, cross-cultural, social learning, omniscience, anthropomorphism


Despite a wealth of research exploring developmental patterns of children’s understanding of the thoughts and desires of another (or, their theory of mind), relatively little research has explored children’s developing understanding of supernatural minds. Of the work that exists, very few studies have explored whether patterns are similar in other cultural contexts, or religious traditions outside of Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. To address this deficit, the present study recruited 2-to-5-year-old children from three countries (United Kingdom, Albania, and Israel) with different religious traditions (Christian, Muslim, and Jewish). Children completed two perception (audio and visual) tasks and one memory task assessing their understanding of natural and supernatural minds’ cognitive abilities. Analyses revealed different patterns for responses about human minds. However, there were similar results across samples for responses about God, suggesting a shared developmental pattern. We conclude that children from religious traditions with a High God (God, Allah, Ha-Shem) share a similar developing concept of God. 

Author Biographies

Emily Rachel Reed Burdett, University of Nottingham

School of Psychology, Assistant Professor

Justin L. Barrett, Fuller Theological Seminary

School of Psychology, Thrive Professor of Developmental Science

Tyler S. Greenway, Fuller Theological Seminary

School of Psychology, Research Associate


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How to Cite

Burdett, E. R. R., Barrett, J. L., & Greenway, T. S. (2020). Children’s Developing Understanding of the Cognitive Abilities of Supernatural and Natural Minds: Evidence from Three Cultures. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 14(1), 124–151.



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