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Foundations of the Mind

Foundations of the Mind

Children’s Understanding of Reality

Eugene V. Subbotsky

ISBN 9780674311879

Publication date: 01/01/1993

In the wake of Jean Piaget’s work on children’s understanding of reality, it is generally accepted that by age two, children assume that an object hidden in a box will remain there unchanged until someone tampers with it. Eugene Subbotsky persuasively demonstrates that many children—and some adults—will often accept mysterious disappearances and creations, perceiving them not as tricks or illusions but as actual occurrences. His analysis clearly shows that alongside our everyday belief in object permanence, we also have a set of quasi-magical beliefs that can be activated by appropriate situations and behaviors. The acceptability of these beliefs will vary from culture to culture, and will be widespread among preliterate peoples but less obvious in advanced industrial countries. The author, a Russian psychologist, draws on his own extensive research and examines other taken-for-granted concepts, such as the distinction between animate and inanimate.

Foundations of the Mind, amply illustrated with experimental material, has enormous implications for the study of both child development and the psychology of human beliefs. It attacks our complacent and often culturally biased faith in the nature of reality, and as such will become required reading for all psychologists.


  • I am impressed by the freshness and creativity of Subbotsky’s approach. He has done a variety of experiments on the extent to which children and adults assume that certain causal regularities are always inviolable or will sometimes accept quasi-magical violations. His research concerns the so-called object permanence concept… He has also looked at other concepts, such as the distinction between animate and inanimate. Again, he argues that although we mostly insist that this barrier is insurmountable, under certain conditions we will accept that what was inanimate before has become animate… He is taking psychological research that is highly familiar to Western readers and offering a striking new perspective… I think it could be of major importance.

    —Paul Harris, University of Oxford

Book Details

  • 162 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Press