Multiple Developments in Counterfactual Thinking

Sarah R. Beck, Kevin J. Riggs 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

Multiple Developments in Counterfactual Thinking

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Mapping the development of children’s counterfactual thinking should allow insight in to this process in adults and its relation with causal understanding. We argue that there is not one critical development that should be thought of as marking children’s ability to engage in counterfactual thought. Rather there is a sequence of (at least) four developments that takes place from early to middle childhood. Three-year-olds can generate alternative future worlds, but it is not until children are around 4 that they can speculate about known to be false counterfactuals. Later developments involve representing these counterfactuals as possibilities that could have occurred and relating the counterfactual and real worlds. We consider whether domain general developments in executive function might underpin these developments.

Keywords: possibilities; executive function; imagination; cognitive development

Chapter.  6491 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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