Preschoolers Use Intentional and Pedagogical Cues to Guide Inductive Inferences and Exploration


  • Portions of this work were presented at the 2010 CEU Cognitive Development Center Opening Conference, the 2010 biennial meeting of the International Conference on Infant Studies, the 32nd annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, and the 2011 biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development. This research was supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to the first author. We are grateful to the teachers, staff, parents, and children at Bing Nursery School and the Arboretum Child Care Center for participating in this research and to Hannah Jaycox, Cole Murphy-Hockett, and Sam Saenz for their assistance with data collection and coding. We thank Andrei Cimpian for helpful comments on a previous draft.

concerning this article should be addressed to Lucas P. Butler, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Jordan Hall, Building 420, Stanford, CA 94305. Electronic mail may be sent to


Children are judicious social learners. They may be particularly sensitive to communicative actions done pedagogically for their benefit, as such actions may mark important, generalizable information. Three experiments (= 224) found striking differences in preschoolers’ inductive generalization and exploration of a novel functional property, depending on whether identical evidence for the property was produced accidentally, intentionally, or pedagogically and communicatively. Results also revealed that although 4-year-olds reserved strong generalizations for a property that is pedagogically demonstrated, 3-year-olds made such inferences when it was produced either intentionally or pedagogically. These findings suggest that by age 4 children assess whether evidence is produced for their benefit in gauging generalizability, giving them a powerful tool for acquiring important kind-relevant, generic knowledge.