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Evidence for Preschoolers' Understanding of Causal Direction in Extended Causal Sequences
Vol. 49, No. 1 (Mar., 1978), pp. 218-222
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1128612
Page Count: 5
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The literature on children's causal reasoning indicates that the belief that causes precede their effects in time develops relatively late, sometime during the concrete operational period. The present study examined this issue using methods less dependent on memory and linguistic skills than earlier studies. The subjects were 80 children evenly distributed over the 4 age levels: 4½, 6, 7, and 8 years. Children were presented with 10 causal chains, each having the form "A caused B caused C" where the events A, B, and C were portrayed on 3 separate cards. Subjects were asked why event B occurred and had to choose as the answer either the antecedent A or the consequent C event. To correct for response bias, after some of the causal chains, subjects either were asked what followed B or were asked a nonsense question. The results showed that children at all 4 age levels answered the why questions virtually without error, even when response bias was taken into account. A second study ruled out the possibility that the high rate of correct responding was an artifact of the order of mention of events. A third study, extending the procedure to even younger children, revealed a significant tendency already among 3-year-olds to answer why questions with antecedent events. The present investigation demonstrates that, contrary to current claims in the literature, the idea that causes precede their effects in time is believed by children who, judging by their age, are still in the preoperational period.
Child Development © 1978 Society for Research in Child Development