The invisible hand: Toddlers connect probabilistic events with agentive causes

TitleThe invisible hand: Toddlers connect probabilistic events with agentive causes
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsWu, Y, Muentener, P, Schulz, L
JournalCognitive Science
Volume40
Start Page1854
Pagination23
Abstract

Children posit unobserved causes when events appear to occur spontaneously (e.g., Gelman & Gottfried, 1996).  What about when events appear to occur probabilistically? Here toddlers (mean: 20.1 months) saw arbitrary causal relationships (Cause A generated Effect A; Cause B generated Effect B) in a fixed, alternating order. The relationships were then changed in one of two ways.  In the Deterministic condition, the event order changed (Event B preceded Event A); in the Probabilistic condition, the causal relationships changed (Cause A generated Effect B; Cause B generated Effect A). As intended, toddlers looked equally long at both changes (Experiment 1). We then introduced a previously unseen candidate cause.  Toddlers looked longer at the appearance of a hand (Experiment 2) and novel agent (Experiment 3) in the Deterministic than the Probabilistic conditions, but looked equally long at novel non-agents (Experiment 4), suggesting that by two, toddlers connect probabilistic events with unobserved agents.

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