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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Children’s use of Reasoning by Exclusion to Track Identities of Occluded Objects


Reasoning by exclusion allows us to infer properties of unobserved objects from currently observed objects, formalized by P or Q, not P, therefore Q. Previous work suggested that, by age 3, children can use this kind of reasoning to infer the location of a hidden object after learning that another location is empty (e.g. Mody & Carey, 2016). In the current study, we asked whether children could use reasoning by exclusion to infer the identities of previously unobserved occluded objects in a task that required them to track the locations of multiple occluded objects. Forty-nine 4-7-year-olds viewed animated arrays of virtual “cards” depicting images which were then hidden by occluders. The occluders then swapped locations during the maintenance period. Children were asked to select which card was hidden in a probed location. During the encoding period, we manipulated whether children saw all the card faces (Face-up block) or all but one of the card faces (Exclusion block), for which children had to reason by exclusion to infer the target in half of the trials. We found that all children succeeded in the Face-up block, but only 6-year-olds succeed in the Exclusion block when they had to deploy logical reasoning to identify a previously-unseen hidden target. Our results suggest that children’s ability to reason by exclusion to infer the identity of a hidden target while tracking multiple objects and locations may undergo protracted development.

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