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Prelife reasoning: our belief in immortality starts young

A child in the study in Ecuador examined three images researchers used to help children visualize the time before and after they were born.  All the children studied showed belief that they had existed in some way before conception.
A child in the study in Ecuador examined three images researchers used to help children visualize the time before and after they were born. All the children studied showed belief that they had existed in some way before conception. Natalie Emmons/Boston University

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Is the desire for immortality something we learn as we grow older and fear death, or a core, universal intuition that we develop early in life?

Given the diversity of cultural and religious teachings about what happens after people die, it can be hard to sift out what beliefs about the afterlife are learned and which, if any, are universal. What about before life begins, psychology researchers at Boston University wondered? Do human beings share common, universal beliefs about prelife—before conception?

To find out if people believe they existed before they were even conceived, the researchers studied two groups of children: an urban population from Connocoto, Ecuador, that was largely Catholic, and children from the Shuar village in Ecuador’s Amazon basin.

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