Exploring Explanation: Explaining Inconsistent Evidence Informs Exploratory, Hypothesis-Testing Behavior in Young Children


  • This research was supported by funding from the James S. McDonnell Foundation Causal Learning Collaborative. I am grateful to the teachers, staff, and children of the University of Texas Children’s Research Laboratory and Pooh Corner Preschool for participating in this research, and to Susan Gelman and Henry Wellman for useful input on experimental design and manuscript preparation. I would like to thank Leigh Plummer and Andrea Kiss for their able assistance in supervising data collection; Kellie Connors, Kaitlin McLaughlin, and Brooke Wooley for their assistance with data coding; and Sonja Baumer for her mentorship.

concerning this article should be addressed to Cristine H. Legare, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station #A8000, Austin, TX 78712. Electronic mail may be sent to legare@psy.utexas.edu.


Explaining inconsistency may serve as an important mechanism for driving the process of causal learning. But how might this process generate amended beliefs? One way that explaining inconsistency may promote discovery is by guiding exploratory, hypothesis-testing behavior. In order to investigate this, a study with young children ranging in age from 2 to 6 years (N = 80) examined the relation between explanation and exploratory behavior following consistent versus inconsistent outcomes. Results indicated that for inconsistent outcomes only, the kind of explanation children provided informed the kind of exploratory behavior they engaged in and the extent to which children modified and generated new hypotheses. In sum, the data provide insight into a mechanism by which explaining inconsistent evidence guides causal cognition.