"Everything happens for a reason": children's beliefs about purpose in life events

Child Dev. 2015 Mar-Apr;86(2):503-18. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12312. Epub 2014 Oct 18.


Do children believe that "everything happens for a reason?" That is, do children endorse purpose-based, teleological explanations for significant life events, as they do for social behavior, artifacts, biological properties, and natural kinds? Across three experiments, 5- to 7-year-olds (N = 80), 8- to 10-year-olds (N = 72), and adults (N = 91) chose between teleological and nonteleological accounts of significant life events and judged how helpful those accounts were for understanding an event's cause. Five- to 7-year-olds favored teleological explanations, but this preference diminished with age. Five- to 7-year-olds and 8- to 10-year-olds also found teleological explanations more helpful than did adults. Perceiving purpose in life events may therefore have roots in childhood, potentially reflecting a more general sensitivity to purpose in the social and natural worlds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Thinking / physiology*