Individual differences in fluency with idea generation predict children’s beliefs in their own free will

AbstractThe ability to imagine alternative possibilities plays a crucial role in everyday cognitive functioning beginning in early childhood. Across two studies, we ask whether individual differences in young children’s (Mean Age = 5.01; SD = 0.78 Range = 2) fluency in generating alternative possibilities relates to a particular type of social-cognitive counterfactual judgment, namely children’s belief in the possibility to “act otherwise” when actions go against stated strong desires (i.e. “free will”). We found that the fluency of generating ideas was a consistent individual difference that held regardless of domain. We also found that individual children’s fluency predicted judgments of free will for themselves (Study 2) but not for others (Study 1). Our findings raise new questions about how counterfactual thinking enables children to overcome psychological barriers to self-control, and how stimulating the imagination facilitates developing cognitions that rely on it.

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