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Cognition. 1994 Apr-Jun;50(1-3):347-62.

Levels of causal understanding in chimpanzees and children.

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Laboratoire de Psycho-Biologie du Développement, CNRS, Paris, France.


We compare three levels of causal understanding in chimpanzees and children: (1) causal reasoning, (2) labelling the components (actor, object, and instrument) of a causal sequence, and (3) choosing the correct alternative for an incomplete representation of a causal sequence. We present two tests of causal reasoning, the first requiring chimpanzees to read and use as evidence the emotional state of a conspecific. Despite registering the emotion, they failed to use it as evidence. The second test, comparing children and chimpanzees, required them to infer the location of food eaten by a trainer. Children and, to a lesser extent, chimpanzees succeeded. When given information showing the inference to be unsound--physically impossible--4-year-old children abandoned the inference but younger children and chimpanzees did not. Children and chimpanzees are both capable of labelling causal sequences and completing incomplete representations of them. The chimpanzee Sarah labelled the components of a causal sequence, and completed incomplete representations of actions involving multiple transformations. We conclude the article with a general discussion of the concept of cause, suggesting that the concept evolved far earlier in the psychological domain than in the physical.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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