British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 2 Issue 2 (June 1984), Pages 95-190

Preschool children's understanding of causal connections (pages 139-148)

Preschool‐aged children's understanding of causal mechanism was assessed by showing them a simple event sequence in which two objects moved in tandem. The central question was whether children would infer the presence of a mechanism linking the two objects whose movement covaried. This was tested by assessing five responses: actions when asked to move one object, explanations for how the object moved, predictions as to whether both objects would still move without a connection, inferences about the nature and location of the connection, and surprise when the objects moved without any apparent connection.

The results from 3‐, 4‐ and 5‐year‐olds indicated that an understanding of mechanism is firmly established by 5 years but fragile at 3 years and only revealed by some response modes. The implications of the results concerning how to characterize and test for early competence are discussed.

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