Multiple Developments in Counterfactual Thinking

Sarah R. Beck*, Kevin J. Riggs, Patrick Burns

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Citations (Scopus)


Mapping the development of children's counterfactual thinking should allow insight in to this process in adults and its relation with causal understanding. We argue that there is not one critical development that should be thought of as marking children's ability to engage in counterfactual thought. Rather there is a sequence of (at least) four developments that takes place from early to middle childhood. Three-year-olds can generate alternative future worlds, but it is not until children are around 4 that they can speculate about known to be false counterfactuals. Later developments involve representing these counterfactuals as possibilities that could have occurred and relating the counterfactual and real worlds. We consider whether domain general developments in executive function might underpin these developments.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUnderstanding Counterfactuals, Understanding Causation
Subtitle of host publicationIssues in Philosophy and Psychology
PublisherOxford University Press/UNESCO
ISBN (Electronic)9780191731242
ISBN (Print)9780199590698
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2012


  • Cognitive development
  • Executive function
  • Imagination
  • Possibilities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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