Certain to be surprised: A preference for novel causal outcomes develops in early childhood

AbstractA large literature on the development of causal reasoning characterizes early childhood as a period of curiosity, exploration, and experimentation. This suggests that a novelty preference may be a universal hallmark of early causal learning. Functionally, such a bias might serve to direct attention towards new opportunities for knowledge gain. An alternative possibility is that a preference for exploring novel outcomes develops over time. In three experiments with 2- to 5-year-olds, we investigate the developmental trajectory of children’s preference for causal processes that produce reliable versus novel outcomes. We find evidence for a developmental shift between ages 2 and 3: while two-year-olds trend toward a preference for reliable over novel outcomes, older children clearly prefer novel ones. We discuss possible adaptive reasons for this developmental shift.

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