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Dev Psychol. 2001 Sep;37(5):620-9.

Causal learning mechanisms in very young children: two-, three-, and four-year-olds infer causal relations from patterns of variation and covariation.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley 94720, USA. gopnik@socrates.berkeley.edu


Three studies investigated whether young children make accurate causal inferences on the basis of patterns of variation and covariation. Children were presented with a new causal relation by means of a machine called the "blicket detector." Some objects, but not others, made the machine light up and play music. In the first 2 experiments, children were told that "blickets make the machine go" and were then asked to identify which objects were "blickets." Two-, 3-, and 4-year-old children were shown various patterns of variation and covariation between two different objects and the activation of the machine. All 3 age groups took this information into account in their causal judgments about which objects were blickets. In a 3rd experiment, 3- and 4-year-old children used the information when they were asked to make the machine stop. These results are related to Bayes-net causal graphical models of causal learning.

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