Meng, X., Ishii, T. (石井辰典), Nakawake, Y. (中分 遥), Sugimoto, K., Moriguchi, Y., Kanakogi, Y., & Watanabe, K. (2023). Children attribute higher social status to people who have extraordinary capacities. 子どもは超越的な能力と社会的優位性を結びつける Cognition, 239, 105576. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2023.105576
Throughout history, individuals believed to have extraordinary capabilities were generally highly ranked in their communities; this suggests a universal “extraordinary-dominant expectation” in human minds, which may play a key role in religious thought, even in modern societies. This study shows that 5–6-year-old children, who begin to understand real-world causalities regarding how the body and mind of human beings work, predict that individuals who exhibit extraordinary capabilities have higher social status in interactions with individuals who exhibit ordinary capabilities. In Experiment 1, we showed children two individuals achieving goals using either humanly possible or impossible methods, the latter involving simple forms of violation of intuitive psychology (knowing without seeing), physics (flying), or biology (fire breathing). The children clearly judged the latter as surprising and unusual. More importantly, the children predicted that individuals showing extraordinary capabilities will gain contested resources and play a dominant role in interactions with ordinary individuals, indicating a higher social status. Further investigations suggested that the children specifically linked extraordinary capacities to social status, as they did not attribute dominance to individuals who apply surprising/unusual but possible methods (Experiment 2), and that they did not indiscriminately attribute positive characteristics to extraordinary capabilities despite a strong extraordinary-dominant expectation being replicated (Experiment 3). These findings demonstrate that extraordinary-dominant expectations can be observed in childhood across different intuitive knowledge domains, helping understand the cognitive mechanisms of religious thought and the cognitive foundations of hierarchical social systems.