Toddlers and Adults Simultaneously Track Multiple Hypotheses in a Causal Learning Task

AbstractResearch on the development of future hypothetical and counterfactual thinking suggests that children as old as five may be unable to consider multiple, equally probable possibilities simultaneously. Yet, a large literature on the development of causal reasoning suggests that much younger children are able to generate, evaluate, and test causal hypotheses, often by integrating information about several candidate causes at once. The current research seeks to bridge these two bodies of research. In three experiments, adults and toddlers (18–30 months) observe a sequence of evidence that is equally consistent with two hypotheses, each occupying a different level of abstraction (individual vs. relational). Results suggest that learners generate more than one potential cause, hold both in mind, and flexibly apply the appropriate hypothesis to inform their inferences at test. Findings challenge previous suggestions that much older children fail to consider multiple, equally probable possibilities.

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