Does the intuitive scientist conduct informative experiments?: Children’s early ability to select and learn from their own interventions

AbstractWe investigate whether children preferentially select informative actions and make accurate inferences from the outcome of their own interventions in a causal learning task. Four- to six-year-olds were presented with a novel system composed of two gears that could operate according to two possible causal structures (single or multiple cause). Given the choice between interventions (i.e., removing one of the gears to observe the remaining gear in isolation), children demonstrated a clear preference for the action that revealed the true causal structure, and made subsequent causal judgments that were consistent with the outcome observed. Experiment 2 addressed the possibility that performance was driven by children’s tendency to select an intervention that would produce a desirable effect (i.e., spinning gears), rather than to disambiguate the causal structure. The results replicate our initial findings in a context in which the informative action was less likely to produce a positive outcome than the uninformative one. We discuss these results in terms of their significance for understanding both the development of scientific reasoning and the role of self-directed actions in early learning.

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