Development of explanations for why biomedical and folk-medical practices would be effective

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Two studies examined Japanese adults’ and elementary school children's (30 in each child group; 8 and 11 years old) judgments of the effectiveness of biomedical (ingesting pills), folk-physical (applying cold jelly to the affected area), and folk-religious (charm-wearing) practices. Furthermore, their explanations as to why these practices would work were examined. The adults in Study 1 and the children in Study 2 were equally likely to estimate the efficacy of the biomedical practices compared to the folk-medical practices. However, there were differences between adults and children in explaining why each practice would be effective. The adults often referred to expert explanations for biomedical practices based on the specialist's expertize and psychosocial explanations for folk-medical practices based on the patient's mental state and personal relationships. Concerning children, the use of different explanations for various types of medical practices was not observed. Expert explanations were frequent for both biomedical and folk-medical practices. In Study 1, adults who rejected folk-medical practices tended to rely on different explanations for biomedical and folk-medical practices. In contrast, adults open to folk-medical practices were inclined to apply the same explanations for biomedical and folk-medical practices. Specifically, the adults who recognized the benefits of folk-medical practices were comfortable applying energy explanations which explained how the practice worked from the perspective of an increase in the patient's energy, regardless of the type of medical practice. However, the children rarely mentioned energy explanations for any practices.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101272
JournalCognitive Development
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jan 1


  • Co-existence model
  • Folk beliefs
  • Illness
  • Knowledge acquisition
  • Naive biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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