How does causality affect children's perception of time?

Sara Lorimer

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Background Causal binding, the perception of two events as being closer together in time when they are causally related, is a well-established phenomenon in adults (Moore & Obhi, 2012). This phenomenon suggests that our experience of time is structured by our causal representations, and causal binding has been used as a way of implicitly measuring beliefs about agency or causation (Moore et al., 2012). However, we know very little about the developmental origins of this phenomenon, despite its importance and its potential to serve as an implicit measure of belief. The only study to date did not find binding in 10-year-olds (Cavazzana et al., 2014), but used a highly demanding task. We examined whether temporal binding can be found in children using a simplified method that involved categorizing durations. Method Twenty-five 7-to-8-year-olds and thirty-five 9-to-10-year-olds participated. Participants were shown a demonstration of how much of a circle “fills-in” as time passes (see Table 1), and that the amount filled in corresponded to one of four buttons on a response box (matching 200, 400, 600, and 800 ms). A period of training ensured responses could be reliably used as a proxy for temporal estimates. Children then completed a task in which they used the buttons to judge the length of a delay until a rocket launched; in the causal condition the rocket was launched by the child pressing a key and in the non-causal condition the rocket launched independently following a signal. The actual delays before the rocket launch in the two conditions were 300ms, 500ms, and 700ms. Results The average response given to each of the three delays was calculated (Figure 1). A three way ANOVA with factors of age, condition, and delay found a significant main effect of delay, F(1 , 58) = 92.96, p < .01, indicating participants accurately distinguished between delays. There was also a significant main effect of condition, F(1, 58) = 19.50, p < 0.01, with temporal estimates being lower in the causal condition suggesting the presence of causal binding. There was no main effect of age (F < 1) and age did not interact with condition (F < 1), indicating no developmental change in the magnitude of the binding effect. Implications These findings are the first to show causal binding in children, and run contrary to Cavazzana et al.’s conclusion that binding requires processes that are beyond the cognitive limitations of children. The findings indicate that the temporal perception of children as young as 7 years old is influenced by their representations of the causal relations between events, just as it is in adults. The methodology employed within this study may provide a blueprint that will enable future research to probe children’s implicit causal beliefs, as has been done with adults. Alternatively, these findings provide a starting point for exploration into the validity of causal binding as an implicit measure of causal beliefs; a question which is currently debated within adult research literature (Saito et al., 2015).
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventSociety for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting - Austin, United States
Duration: 06 Apr 201708 Apr 2017
Conference number: 2017


ConferenceSociety for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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