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Our Souls Are In Our Eyes: The Experiment

Which is closest?

(Image credit: C. Starmans & P. Bloom / Cognition)

In a new study, Yale psychologists investigated people's intuitive feelings about the precise location of the soul inside the body. In three experiments, preschoolers and adults were shown series of pictures of cartoon characters, and in each picture a small object (a buzzing fly or snowflake) was positioned near a different section of the character's body.In each experiment, the study participants were asked which picture showed the object closest to the character's body, revealing the spot that they intuitively believed to be the location of the character's "self," or soul. When do you think the small objects are closest to the cartoon characters?

Experiment 1 results

(Image credit: C. Starmans & P. Bloom / Cognition)

This diagram shows the number of children and adults who selected eachposition as the point where the buzzing fly was closest to the cartoon girl. Brightness increases with the numberof participants. Because the brightest spot was near the girl's eyes, the researchers interpreted this as the place that the study participants most closely associated with her soul.

Experiment 2 results

(Image credit: C. Starmans & P. Bloom / Cognition)

This diagram shows the number of children and adults who selected eachposition as the point where the buzzing fly was closest to the cartoon alien. Brightness increases with numberof participants. Critics of the study point out that there is no explanation of the difference in the results corresponding to the adults and 4-year-olds. Why did so many children choose the alien's eyeless forehead?

Experiment 3 results

(Image credit: C. Starmans & P. Bloom / Cognition)

This diagram shows the number of children and adults who selected eachposition as the point where the snowflake was closest to the girl. Brightness increases with numberof participants. Again, there were unexplained differences in the results corresponding to the two age groups.