This work was supported by NSF (DLS-0518161 to DMS). We would like to thank all of the parents and children who participated in this research and the Providence Children’s Museum for allowing us to work with children on site. We would also like to thank Karis Casagrande, Brianna Doherty, Caroline Kleeman, Karina Ikezoe, Rachel Shelley-Abrahamson, and Kristen Swan for help with participant recruitment and data analysis.
Mechanism-Based Causal Reasoning in Young Children
Article first published online: 15 SEP 2011
© 2011 The Authors. Child Development © 2011 Society for Research in Child Development, Inc.
Volume 82, Issue 6, pages 2053–2066, November/December 2011
How to Cite
Buchanan, D. W. and Sobel, D. M. (2011), Mechanism-Based Causal Reasoning in Young Children. Child Development, 82: 2053–2066. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01646.x
- Issue published online: 15 NOV 2011
- Article first published online: 15 SEP 2011
The hypothesis that children develop an understanding of causal mechanisms was tested across 3 experiments. In Experiment 1 (N = 48), preschoolers had to choose as efficacious either a cause that had worked in the past, but was now disconnected from its effect, or a cause that had failed to work previously, but was now connected. Four-year-olds chose the now-connected cause more often than 3-year-olds. Experiment 2 (N = 16) showed 4-year-olds responded appropriately to an irrelevant modification in the same causal system. Experiment 3 (N = 24) demonstrated when the mechanism was batteries rather than connection, 3-year-olds could properly distinguish between relevant and irrelevant modifications. Together, these data suggest that understanding of specific causal mechanisms develops at different ages.