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Dev Psychol. 2008 Sep;44(5):1266-76. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.44.5.1266.

Word, thought, and deed: the role of object categories in children's inductive inferences and exploratory play.

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Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Previous research (e.g., S. A. Gelman & E. M. Markman, 1986; A. Gopnik & D. M. Sobel, 2000) suggests that children can use category labels to make inductive inferences about nonobvious causal properties of objects. However, such inductive generalizations can fail to predict objects' causal properties when (a) the property being projected varies within the category, (b) the category is arbitrary (e.g., things smaller than a bread box), or (c) the property being projected is due to an exogenous intervention rather than intrinsic to the object kind. In 4 studies, the authors showed that preschoolers (M = 48 months; range = 42-57 months) were sensitive to these constraints on induction and selectively engaged in exploration when evidence about objects' causal properties conflicted with inductive generalizations from the objects' kind to their causal powers. This suggests that the exploratory actions children generate in free play could support causal learning.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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