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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Role of Alternatives in Children’s Reasoning about Constrained Choices


Research has documented children’s understanding that a choice made when constrained to a single option is a poor indicator of another person’s preference. However, when constraints are constant over time—as they often are in social contexts—they may lose their salience. We examined whether children (N = 133, 5- to 12-year-olds) were more likely to refrain from inferring that a constrained actor prefers their choice if they first observe unconstrained actors (Alternatives condition) compared to if they only observe constrained actors (Constant condition). Presence of alternatives was crossed with constraint type: either the second option was hard to access or there was no other option. In line with our predictions, results indicated that observing alternative situations with greater choice increased children’s subsequent attention to constraints. Effects were stronger for the hard to access constraint and for older children.

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