The Invisible Hand: Toddlers Connect Probabilistic Events With Agentive Causes

Cognitive Science 40 (8):1854-1876 (2016)
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Abstract

Children posit unobserved causes when events appear to occur spontaneously. What about when events appear to occur probabilistically? Here toddlers saw arbitrary causal relationships in a fixed, alternating order. The relationships were then changed in one of two ways. In the Deterministic condition, the event order changed ; in the Probabilistic condition, the causal relationships changed. As intended, toddlers looked equally long at both changes. We then introduced a previously unseen candidate cause. Toddlers looked longer at the appearance of a hand and novel agent in the Deterministic than the Probabilistic conditions, but looked equally long at novel non-agents, suggesting that by 2 years of age, toddlers connect probabilistic events with unobserved agents.

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