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Children’s concepts of miracles. Jacqueline D. Woolley The University of Texas Jean Dunham The University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) Austin.

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children s concepts of miracles

Children’s concepts of miracles

Jacqueline D. Woolley

The University of Texas

Jean Dunham

The University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) Austin

slide2

“A marvelous event occurring within human experience, which cannot have been brought about by human power or by the operation of any natural agency, and must therefore be ascribed to the special intervention of a deity or of some supernatural being. An act exhibiting control over the laws of nature” (pp. 835-836). Oxford English Dictionary (1998)

study 1 questions addressed
Study 1: Questions addressed
  • What do children’s miracle concepts look like?
  • Do children use the concept of miracle as an explanatory tool?
hypotheses
Hypotheses
  • Children will exhibit difficulty believing in miracles as real-world present day possibilities.
  • Children will, in fact, believe in miracles to the same degree that adults do in their culture.
interview questions subset
Interview questions (subset)
  • Have you ever heard of miracles?   
  • What do you think a miracle is?  
  • Have you ever seen a miracle? 
  • Did miracles only happen a long time ago, or do they sometimes happen today? 
  • Does someone make miracles happen or do they just happen?
    • (If someone) Who makes miracles happen?
    • (If God/Jesus) Can a miracle happen without God?
    • Can someone else make a miracle? Who?
    • Do you think you could make a miracle happen?
  • Could a miracle happen to you? If no, why not? If yes, can you give me an example of what kind?
  • Are miracles in real life or just in the Bible?
study 1 interview results
Study 1: Interview Results
  • Give example: 53% Biblical miracle; 34% personal example
  • Have you ever seen a miracle? 44% yes
  • Can you make a miracle? 56% yes
  • Could a miracle happen to you? 92% yes
what is a miracle
What is a miracle?
  • An event that has a positive outcome (30%)
    • When something good happens and you’re really glad something bad didn’t happen.”
  • An unexpected or unusual outcome (25%)
    • “Something not intended to happen, a 1 out of 10 chance kind of thing.”
  • An event that is both positive and unexpected (22%)
    • “Something good happened and you didn’t know it could happen.”
sample responses
Sample responses
  • “When a prophet of God or Jesus comes, and gets God’s help to do things normal people can’t do.”
  • “Luck happens by chance, but miracles happen for a reason.”
  • “Magic is spells and magicians; miracle is something good.”
study 1 story sets
Study 1: Story Sets
  • Violation (vs. no violation)
  • Alternative explanation (present vs. absent)
  • Involvement of prayer (vs. no prayer)
  • Economic status (rich vs. poor)
  • Neediness (need vs. no need)
sample story set
Sample story set
  • Violation stories
  • Non-violation: This is Tony. Last week it was mostly sunny where he lives, but one day it rained a little bit. There were a couple of clouds, and there was a little bit of rain, for about 5 minutes. He didn’t get any rain inside his house. All of his neighbors’ houses were totally dry, and so was his.
  • Violation: This is Brad. Last year his town was hit by a big storm. There was wind and rain and flooding everywhere. But you know what? Even though almost all the houses in the town got flooded with water, his house stayed totally dry.
study 1 results
Study 1: Results
  • Violation stories
    • Violation– Brad’s house stays dry: (97%)
    • Non-violation – Tony’s house stays dry (22%)
  • Economic status
    • Poor – Poor family gets car (83%)
    • Rich – Rich family gets car (33%)
study 2 sample story set
Study 2 Sample Story Set

Mundane

This is Elizabeth. When she was little she got a dog named Jackson. He was a great, fun dog, but when one day he got off his leash. He was loose for three hours and was running all around the neighborhood. By the time they caught him and put him in their car he was so tired he fell right asleep. When they got home to their house though, he woke up and he was fine! Elizabeth took Jackson into the back yard to play when she got home.

 Improbable

This is Elizabeth. When she was little she got a dog named Jackson. He was a great, fun dog, but when one day he got off his leash and got hit by a car. Her family took Jackson to the vet but the vet said he had serious internal injuries and probably wouldn’t live. Jackson stayed at the vet asleep for two whole weeks, and when he woke up he was fine! Elizabeth took Jackson into the back yard to play when she got home.

Impossible

This is Elizabeth. When she was little she got a dog named Jackson. He was a great, fun dog, but when one day he got off his leash and got hit by a big truck. Her family took Jackson to the vet but the vet could not find a heartbeat, and so he told Elizabeth that Jackson was dead. The family decided to take Jackson home to bury him in the back yard. When they got home to their house though, he woke up and he was fine! Elizabeth took Jackson into the back yard to play when she got home.

explanations from other kids
Explanations from “other kids”
  • Miracle – Riley said it was a miracle – that God made it happen.
  • Luck – Dakota said it was because Elizabeth was a lucky person – she had really good luck that day.
  • Natural – Taylor said it was because all that sleeping made the dog better. (Explanation varied depending on the story.)
  • No explanation – Parker said that it’s really hard to explain; there’s no way to explain it.
condition manipulation
Condition manipulation
  • Bible story condition – Children heard two Bible stories and answered questions about them.
  • Non-Bible story condition – No Bible stories.
best explanation
Best explanation

Number of times chosen out of 6 trials

best explanation by religiosity
Best explanation by religiosity

Number of times chosen out of 6 trials

conclusions
Conclusions
  • Interview: Miracles are simply positive, low probability events.
  • Explanations task:
    • Miracles violate natural laws.
    • Children prefer natural explanations for mundane and improbable events.
    • Priming religion increased endorsement of miracle explanation.
    • Family religiosity affected endorsement of miracle explanations.
acknowledgements
Acknowledgements
  • This research was supported in part by National Institutes of Health (NICHD) Grant R01 HD 030300 to Jacqueline Woolley.
  • Many thanks to the staff, parents, and children of Saint Andrews Episcopal School.
  • Special thanks to Irene Rodriguez, without whom Study 2 wouldn’t exist.
  • Additional thanks to the undergraduate research assistants in my lab -- Christy Amador, Erin Andrews, Lily Choi, Mary Grady, Erik Herbst, Madelyn Hutson, Michelle Jackson, Melissa Leva, Monica Mendoza, Amanda Proctor, Chi Vu, and Becca Yasskin -- and to my graduate students -- Chelsea Cornelius, Gabe Lopez-Mobilia, and Brooke Miller.
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