Children's Use of Causal Structure When Making Similarity Judgments
A deep understanding of any phenomenon requires knowing how its causal elements are related to one another. Here, we examine whether children recognize similar causal structures across superficially distinct events. We presented 4- to 7-year-olds with three-variable narratives in which story events unfold according to a causal chain or a common effect structure. We then asked children to make judgments about which stories are the most similar. Results indicate that the ability to recognize and use abstract causal structure as a metric of similarity develops gradually between the ages of 4 and 7: While we find no evidence that 4-year-olds recognize the common causal structure between events, 7-year-olds have a relatively mature understanding of causal system categories when making similarity judgements. Five- and 6-year-olds show mixed success. We discuss these findings in light of children’s developing causal and abstract reasoning and propose directions for future work.