Document Type

Capstone Project (Open Access)

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


Human Development & Family Science


Despite cultural myths and social taboos, young children are capable of understanding death and death concepts. Previous research has demonstrated that children have a varied and complex understanding of death that is influenced by their age, family culture, and previous experience. This study aims to differentiate children’s death concept depending on context, including children’s magical thinking, namely the difference between the deaths of a human, an animal, and an electronic toy. Using a modified version of the Death Concept Questionnaire, preschool-aged (3 to 5 years old) children (n=7) were presented with short video clips of a human, a dog, and a robotic toy and then asked questions about their deaths as they relate to the central aspects of death concept; irreversibility, non-functionality, and universality. Children’s responses were rated on a scale of 0-3 and then analyzed for maturity of death concept and variations in death concept. Children’s death concept scores were developmentally typical for the age group but demonstrated a more mature understanding of the deaths of animals and toys compared to humans. Children mixed biological and mechanical concepts when talking about toys, ascribing both life-like and inanimate traits, and felt that the deaths of a toy and a person were more similar than the death of an animal and the death of a person. These results indicate that young children have a potentially more complicated understanding of death than previously thought, particularly with regards to inanimate toys and objects.