Mechanistic Knowledge Generalizes Differentially

AbstractWhen inferring the extent of others’ knowledge from samples of what they know, certain kinds of samples imply richer content. One candidate kind is knowledge of causal mechanism. In the current study, we investigate whether children and adults think that knowledge about mechanism generalizes more broadly than non-mechanistic factual knowledge. We find an early-emerging assumption that mechanistic knowledge about a basic level category implies greater knowledge about a superordinate category, compared to factual knowledge about the same basic level category. Even young children have a sophisticated sense of how causal mechanisms generalize across categories, despite possessing little mechanistic knowledge themselves. These intuitions likely support the epistemic inferences we make from early childhood onward.

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