Encouraging children to think counterfactually enhances blocking in a causal learning task

Teresa McCormack*, Victoria Simms, Jemma McGourty, Tom Beckers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

According to a higher order reasoning account, inferential reasoning processes underpin the widely observed cue competition effect of blocking in causal learning. The inference required for blocking has been described as modus tollens (if p then q, not q therefore not p). Young children are known to have difficulties with this type of inference, but research with adults suggests that this inference is easier if participants think counterfactually. In this study, 100 children (51 five-year-olds and 49 six- to seven-year-olds) were assigned to two types of pretraining groups. The counterfactual group observed demonstrations of cues paired with outcomes and answered questions about what the outcome would have been if the causal status of cues had been different, whereas the factual group answered factual questions about the same demonstrations. Children then completed a causal learning task. Counterfactual pretraining enhanced levels of blocking as well as modus tollens reasoning but only for the younger children. These findings provide new evidence for an important role for inferential reasoning in causal learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1910-1926
Number of pages17
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Volume66
Issue number10
Early online date21 Feb 2013
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • Causal learning
  • Reasoning
  • Counterfactuals
  • Blocking
  • CUE COMPETITION
  • RETROSPECTIVE REVALUATION
  • DEVELOPMENTAL EVIDENCE
  • BACKWARD BLOCKING
  • REASONING RATS
  • MAKE-BELIEVE
  • MIND-SETS
  • CONTINGENCY
  • JUDGMENT
  • ADDITIVITY

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology

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