Considering alternatives facilitates anomaly detection in preschoolers

AbstractHere we explore whether drawing upon preschooler’s intuitive causal reasoning abilities may bolster their attention to the presence of conflicting data. Specifically, we examine whether prompting children to think counterfactually about alternative outcomes facilitates their anomaly detection in a causal reasoning task. The current task assesses whether children in two conditions successfully differentiate between potential causes: one that accounts for 100% of the data (no anomalies), and one that accounts for 75% of the data (anomalies observed). Results indicate that counterfactual prompts lead 5-year-olds to privilege the hypothesis that accounts for more of their observations, and also support transfer of this hypothesis to inform their inferences about novel cases. Findings suggest that counterfactual scaffolds may be beneficial in promoting causal reasoning in children.

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