Children’s causal inferences about past vs. future events

AbstractCausal and temporal reasoning are fundamentally linked, but few studies have directly examined how the ability to make causal inferences about the past vs. the future develops. We used a counterfactual reasoning task to explore 4- to 6-year-old children’s understanding of the causal relationships among past, present, and future events. Like adults, even 4-year-olds judged that future, but not past, events could be altered by interventions in the present. This early sensitivity to the causal asymmetry between the past and future became more pronounced with age. We also found that children and adults selectively and appropriately use evidence about the present to make inferences about past events. Implications for theoretical accounts of the development of causal reasoning and abstract concepts of time are discussed.

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