Children's resistance to scientific explanations is based in what they know and how much they trust the person who told them, Yale researchers report in Science this month.
The resistance will continue into adulthood if the scientific claims are challenged and if the nonscientific alternative is based in common sense and championed by people who are thought to be reliable and trustworthy, the researchers said.
"This resistance to science has important social implications because a scientifically ignorant public is unprepared to evaluate policies about global warming, vaccination, genetically modified organisms, stem cell research, and cloning," said Paul Bloom, psychology professor and lead author of the review article. "Also, science is not special here. The same process holds for certain religious, moral and political beliefs."
Currently, said co-author and graduate student Deena Skolnick Weisberg, there is resistance to central tenets of neuroscience and evolutionary biology because the concepts clash with intuitive beliefs about the immaterial nature of the soul and the purposeful design of humans and other animals.
Children, for instance, commonly believe that the mind is fundamentally separate from the brain, and that the brain is not involved for some sorts of mental activities, such as emotions and decision-making. Children also are drawn to creationist explanations for the origin of species and may find evolutionary accounts confusing and implausible.
Other popular nonscientific beliefs, said Bloom and Weisberg, include the view that unproven medical interventions are effective; that out of body experiences are mystical; that supernatural entities such as ghosts and fairies exist, and that astrology, ESP, and divination are legitimate.