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Journal Article

The role of conventionality and design in children’s function judgments about malfunctioning artifacts


Fong,  Frankie T. K.       
Department of Comparative Cultural Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Fong, F. T. K., Puebla, G., & Nielsen, M. (2024). The role of conventionality and design in children’s function judgments about malfunctioning artifacts. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 240: 105835. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2023.105835.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000E-3E38-F
This study investigated the individual influences of conventionality and designer’s intent on function judgments of possibly malfunctioning artifacts. Children aged 4 and 5 years and 6 to 8 years were presented with stories about an artifact with two equally plausible functions, one labeled as either conventional or designed. Subsequently, a character attempted to use the artifact for the cued function, which resulted in either malfunction or successful use. The children’s task was to identify the real function of the artifact. When the use attempt succeeded, 4- and 5-year-olds preferred conventional functions to the alternative (but did not show a clear preference between design functions and the alternative), and 6- to 8-year-olds preferred conventional and designed functions to the alternative. In case of malfunction, children’s choices were at chance, where the effect of either conventional or design cues was less salient. This contrasts with a baseline condition where children avoided the malfunctioning alternatives. Presenting additional cues about an artifact’s function can affect function judgments in cases of malfunction.