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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Children’s reasoning about hypothetical interventions to complex and dynamic causal systems


Across 3 studies, we investigated children's ability to consider hypothetical interventions to complex and dynamic causal systems. Five- to 7-year-olds learned about novel food chains and were asked about the effects of the removal of one species on others in the food chain. In Studies 1 (n = 72) and 2 (n = 72), 6- and 7-year-olds made correct inferences about the effects on remaining species, but performed better when reasoning about direct predators or prey than indirectly-connected species. Five-year-olds' performance was at chance across all question types. In Study 3 (n = 65, target n = 72), we are currently investigating whether 5-7-year-old children’s performance improves when given more background information on the causal dynamics of the food chains. The results indicate that hypothetical thinking about dynamic causal systems develops between 5 and 7 years. This ability may be leveraged for teaching science concepts.

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