My friend’s true self: Children’s concept of personal identity

Jirout Košová M., Kopecký R., Oulovský P., Nekvinda M., Flegr J. 2021: My friend’s true self: Children’s concept of personal identity. Philosophical Psychology, 34(1): 47-75. DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2020.1860209

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Abstract

Our study explores the folk concept of personal identity in the developmental context. Two hundred and seventeen Czech children participated in an interview study based on a hypothetical scenario about a sudden change in their friend, someone they know, or some other unspecified person. The children were asked to judge to what extent particular changes (from six categories of traits) would change the identity core of their friend or some other person on a seven-point scale. We introduced both positive and negative versions of the changes. Our data suggest that children considered moral traits connected to interpersonal relationships crucial for preserving personal identity. Memory connected to personal experiences also scored highly. On the other hand, a change in physical appearance seemed to have the least important impact on personal identity. Negative changes turned out to have a significantly greater impact than positive changes in all categories, except the physical. Possible effects of scenario and the participants’ age and sex were further explored. We discuss the possible causes of the effect of negative moral change and the role of social dimension in the development of the concept of personal identity.

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