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Young children infer causal strength from probabilities and interventions


We examine the interaction of two cues that children use to make judgments about cause-effect relations: probabilities and interventions. Children were shown a "detector" that lit up and played music when a block was placed on its surface. We varied the probabilistic effectiveness of the block, as well as whether the experimenter or the child was performing the interventions. In Experiment 1, we found that children can use probabilistic evidence to make inferences about causal strength. However, when the results of their own interventions are in conflict with the overall frequencies, preschoolers favor the results of their own interventions. In Experiment 2, children used probabilistic evidence to infer a hidden causal mechanism. Though they again gave preference to their own interventions, they did not do so when their interventions were explicitly confounded by an alternative cause.

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