Disentangling the causal train of thought: The use of dispositional cues to causality in children’s judgments of mechanical interactions

Abbaspour, Sufi; Schneider, Julia; Schlottmann, Anne; Martarelli, Corinna; Cacchione, Trix (11 July 2016). Disentangling the causal train of thought: The use of dispositional cues to causality in children’s judgments of mechanical interactions (Unpublished). In: ISSBD 24th Biennial Meeting of the international Society for the Study of Behavioural Development. Vilnius, Lithuania. 10.07.-14.07.2016.

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Adhering to a dispositional theory of causal explanation, White (2013) proposed that causal understanding originates in experiences of acting on objects; a mechanical interaction (i.e., agentive cause-object produces a change of state in an effect-object) is viewed as a causal prototype. Causality is identified depending on the degree of similarity to this prototype. White (2013) deduced a set of clues as a heuristics for generating causal judgments under uncertainty. We investigated the impact of 8 cues (e.g., activity, immediate effect, contact, two entities), which we analysed for their predictive strength of causal perceptions. Assuming that children adhere stronger to a dispositional core schema, we compared children and adult’s causal judgements.

Each 30 adults and 7-year-old children participated in the Study. Modelled after White’s experiment (2013), participants were asked if they recognized causality in videos showing a toy car, a ball, or water interacting. Each video was designed in reference to the prototype (inspired by Michotte’s launching event), with systematically omitted cues. If participants rely on these cues to identify situations as causal, they should be less likely to do so if one of them is removed.

A linear mixed models analysis revealed a significant effect for the number of cues in an event for both groups children and adults. Both groups interpreted different events as causal based on their similarity to the prototype but the effect for adults was significantly greater than that of children. Examining each separate cue shows that the strength of their impact varies (e.g., contact has a stronger influence than sequence).

In this experiment we conclude that children and adults indeed use singular dispositional cues when judging situations as causal or not. Additionally, over development the intuitive causal schema appears to become more solidified than corrected. This adds important theoretical implications to the field of causal cognition and cognitive development, and may provide a first hint to why adult’s causal thought is still incongruent with Newtonian mechanics.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)


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

Graduate School:

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

UniBE Contributor:

Abbaspour Chinjani, Sufi, Schneider, Julia, Martarelli, Corinna, Cacchione, Beatrix


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology




Sufi Abbaspour Chinjani

Date Deposited:

17 Aug 2016 14:40

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:57





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