Thinking counterfactually supports children’s ability to conduct a controlled test of a hypothesis

AbstractChildren often fail to control variables when conducting tests of hypotheses, yielding confounded evidence. We propose that getting children to think of alternative possibilities through counterfactual prompts may scaffold their ability to control variables, by engaging them in an imagined intervention that is structurally similar to controlled actions in scientific experiments. Findings provide preliminary support for this hypothesis. Seven- to 10-year-olds who were prompted to think counterfactually showed better performance on post-test control of variables tasks than children who were given control prompts. These results inform debates about the contribution of counterfactual reasoning to scientific reasoning, and suggest that counterfactual prompts may be useful in science learning contexts.

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