British Journal of Developmental Psychology

Skip to Search

Skip to Navigation

Volume 15 Issue 1 (March 1997), Pages 1-128

Explanations of unusual events: Phenomenalistic causal judgments in children and adults (pages 13-36)

Children 6 and 9 years old and adults were shown unusual events (transformations of a postage stamp in an empty box) that were accompanied by three experimental actions (putting a postage stamp into an envelope, cutting a piece of paper in half and transforming a plasticine ball into a sausage) which apparently could not have any causal relation to the unusual event. Having no plausible explanation for the unusual event in Expt 1, children of both age groups (but not adults) were inclined to name one of the experimenter's manipulations (the one that resembled the unusual event by an action but not by an object) as a cause of the unusual event, thus producing phenomenalistic causality judgments. In Expt 2 children tended to interpret a postage stamp transformation caused without an obvious physical contact (but not a similar phenomenon in which a remote control car was moved from a distance) as a magical event. The children were equally inclined to produce a phenomenalistic causal judgment in the conditions in which the accompanying actions were made by an adult experimenter or by their peers (Expt 3). In Expts 4 and 5 adult participants in their overt behaviour (but not in their verbal judgments) revealed a tendency to succumb to phenomenalistic causal thinking under the increased cost of disregarding the possibility of a phenomenalistic causal connection. The data are interpreted in the light of the ‘coexistence’ model of the development of fundamental structures of mind according to which early forms of reasoning retain their power in the mind of an educated adult.

Add This link

Bookmark and Share>