Children use a dispositional core concept when identifying causality in non-mechanical events

Abbaspour, Sufi; Schneider, Julia; Cacchione, Trix (11 July 2016). Children use a dispositional core concept when identifying causality in non-mechanical events (Unpublished). In: 24th Biennial Meeting of the international Society for the Study of Behavioural Development (ISSBD). Vilnius, Lithuania. 10.07.-04.07.2016.

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Dispositional theories of causality assume that people associate causality intuitively with an interaction between an agentive cause-object and an effect-object involving an asymmetric impact of forces (see e.g., Mayrhofr & Waldmann, 2014, White 2013; Wolff, 2007). Using a dispositional schema to deduce causality effects if a situation is interpreted as causal (e.g., White 2013). It additionally leads the observer to implicitly ascribe specific features (e.g. strength, dominance, goal-directedness) to the interacting objects, which in turn influences the types of intuitive theories and explanations that are used to interpret causal processes. Consequently, dispositional schemas have a large influence on conceptual development. Research on the application of dispositional schemas in children, particularly for non-mechanical events, remains underdeveloped.

We investigated 7-year-old children and adult’s (each N=32 per event) capacity to intuitively use a dispositional schema when watching different mechanical and non-mechanical events (i.e., lighting hits tree, marble shatters vase, salt dissolves in water, wind moves tree leaves, boat sinks in water, paper airplane flies, plate sits on a table). We developed a battery of 11 to 14 statement-pairs based on force-dynamics concepts that implies asymmetric causality, agent and patient roles with their specific attributes, and causal transmission. Half of the statements were consistent and half were inconsistent with the naïve and scientific position. Participants verified the statements by pressing a button. In order to measure their intuitive concepts, adults had to answer under time pressure.

Preliminary results of the events salt/water, tree/leaves, and boat/water from children reveal that they answer according to an asymmetric core concept. They answer consistent statements more often correct than inconsistent statements. As a next step, we will analyse and compare all seven events and compare data of children and adults.

This study extends previous literature, showing the use of dispositional schemas on causal judgements of mechanical events, to non-mechanical events. It offers important theoretical implications to field of causal cognition.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Developmental Psychology
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Cognitive Psychology, Perception and Methodology

Graduate School:

Swiss Graduate School for Cognition, Learning and Memory (SGS-CLM)

UniBE Contributor:

Abbaspour Chinjani, Sufi; Schneider, Julia and Cacchione, Beatrix


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology




Sufi Abbaspour Chinjani

Date Deposited:

17 Aug 2016 15:47

Last Modified:

17 Aug 2016 15:47




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