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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.


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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