Causality influences children's and adults' experience of temporal order

Developmental Psychology 56 (4):739-755 (2020)
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Abstract

Although it has long been known that time is a cue to causation, recent work with adults has demonstrated that causality can also influence the experience of time. In causal reordering (Bechlivanidis & Lagnado, 2013, 2016) adults tend to report the causally consistent order of events, rather than the correct temporal order. However, the effect has yet to be demonstrated in children. Across four pre-registered experiments, 4- to 10-year-old children (N=813) and adults (N=178) watched a 3-object Michotte-style ‘pseudocollision’. While in the canonical version of the clip object A collided with B, which then collided with object C (order: ABC), the pseudocollision involved the same spatial array of objects but featured object C moving before object B (order: ACB), with no collision between B and C. Participants were asked to judge the temporal order of events and whether object B collided with C. Across all age groups, participants were significantly more likely to judge that B collided with C in the 3-object pseudocollision than in a 2-object control clip (where clear causal direction was lacking), despite the spatiotemporal relations between B and C being identical in the two clips (Experiments 1—3). Collision judgements and temporal order judgements were not entirely consistent, with some participants—particularly in the younger age range—basing their temporal order judgements on spatial rather than temporal information (Experiment 4). We conclude that in both children and adults, rather than causal impressions being determined only by the basic spatial-temporal properties of object movement, schemata are used in a top-down manner when interpreting perceptual displays.

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