Unmasking "alive": Children's appreciation of a concept linking all living things

Erin M. Leddon*, Sandra R. Waxman, Douglas L. Medin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Decades of research have documented in school-aged children a persistent difficulty apprehending an overarching biological concept that encompasses animate entities such as humans and nonhuman animals, as well as plants. This has led many researchers to conclude that young children have yet to integrate plants and animate entities into a concept of LIVING THING. However, virtually all investigations have used the word "alive" to probe children's understanding, a term that technically describes all living things, but in practice is often aligned with animate entities only. We show that when alive is replaced with less ambiguous probes, children readily demonstrate knowledge of an overarching concept linking plants with humans and nonhuman animals. This work suggests that children have a burgeoning appreciation of this fundamental biological concept, and that the word alive paradoxically masks young children's appreciation of the concept to which it is meant to refer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)461-473
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cognition and Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Unmasking "alive": Children's appreciation of a concept linking all living things'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this