The Relationship between Children’s Causal and Counterfactual Judgements

Teresa McCormack, Caren Frosch and Patrick Burns

in Understanding Counterfactuals, Understanding Causation

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199590698
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731242 | DOI:

Series: Consciousness & Self-Consciousness Series

The Relationship between Children’s Causal and Counterfactual Judgements

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In this chapter, we distinguish between two ways in which counterfactual and causal judgements might be linked. According to a psychological relatedness view, counterfactual and causal judgements are viewed as psychologically related and expected to be consistent with each other, whereas according to a counterfactual process view, counterfactual thought is thought to be actually involved in the process of making causal judgements. Our research with young children is discussed in terms of whether it provides support for either of these views. The findings of studies in which children were asked to make counterfactual judgements about the effects of intervening on a causal system suggest that causal and counterfactual judgements are not necessarily consistent in children. However, the findings of our studies in which children judge whether an object possesses a causal power provided some evidence for a link between causal and counterfactual judgements. We discuss whether counterfactual reasoning may actually be involved in the process of making certain types of simple causal judgements, in tasks examining cue competition effects.

Keywords: causal reasoning; causal learning; counterfactual reasoning; cognitive development; causal models

Chapter.  10341 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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