What else could happen? Two-, three-, and four-year-olds use variability information to infer novel causal outcomes

AbstractYoung children rapidly infer causal relations by tracking contingencies between causes and their effects, and can generalize these rules to novel instances of the same cause. However, this is distinct from the ability to make inferences about whether a particular cause is likely to produce novel effects. Here, we investigate the development of two-, three-, and four-year-olds’ ability to recognize and use information about a cause’s variability to make predictions about other novel outcomes it might produce. Experiment 1 finds that children as young as two years of age infer that a cause that has produced variable, rather than deterministic outcomes is more likely to produce a novel, previously unobserved effect. Experiment 2 finds that four-year-olds, but not two- and three-year-olds, infer that a higher variability cause is more likely to produce a novel outcome than a lower variability cause.

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