Children's exploration as a window into their causal learning

AbstractHow do children's beliefs about a causal system influence their exploration of that system? Children watched an experimenter try to make a machine play music by placing blocks on top; one block always activated the machine and the other block never did (Deterministic condition), or one block activated the machine a higher proportion of times than the other (Probabilistic condition). Subsequently, we measured children's exploratory behaviors without feedback (the machine never activated). We predicted that children in the two conditions would differ in their beliefs about how the system should work, leading to different hypotheses about why the machine was no longer working, and to differential exploration. Compared to the Probabilistic condition, children in the Deterministic condition intervened more often with the previously more effective block, experimented more with how to activate the machine, and explored for less time. Children's exploration provides a rich, nuanced view of their causal reasoning.

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