Black boxes: Hypothesis testing via indirect perceptual evidence

Max SIegelMIT, Cambridge, MA, United States
Rachel MagidMassachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Josh TenenbaumMIT
Laura SchulzMIT


Studies of children’s causal learning typically provide learners with clear evidence for direct causal relations, e.g., a machine that activates when a toy is placed upon it. But causal systems in the real world often present indirect perceptual evidence generated by interactions between hidden variables: Consider a child trying to figure out what’s inside a box by shaking it. We propose that effective learning and exploration depend on being able to interpret evidence through the lens of intuitive theories – theories of both the physical world and one’s own perceptual apparatus – to imagine how one’s actions might change the state of the world and what kinds of changes would be most perceptually discriminable. We present three studies exploring these capacities in young children, and suggest how they could support powerful and sophisticated inferences about hidden causes.


Black boxes: Hypothesis testing via indirect perceptual evidence (1.0 MB)

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