Investigating the development of causal inference by studying variability in 2-to 5-year-olds' behavior

Tessa J. P. van Schijndel, Kim Huijpen, Ingmar Visser, Maartje E. J. Raijmakers

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This study investigated the development of young children’s causal inference by studying variability in behavior. Two possible sources of variability, strategy use and accuracy in strategy execution, were discriminated and related to age. To this end, a relatively wide range of causal inference trials was administered to children of a relatively broad age range: 2- to 5-year-olds. Subsequently, individuals’ response patterns over trials were analyzed with a latent variable technique. The results showed that variability in children’s behavior could largely be explained by strategy use. Three different strategies were distinguished, and tentative interpretations suggest these could possibly be labeled as “rational”, “associative”, and “uncertainty avoidance” strategies. The strategies were found to be related to age, and this age-related strategy use better explained the variability in children’s behavior than age-related increase in accuracy of executing a single strategy. This study can be considered a first step in introducing a new, fruitful approach for investigating the development of causal inference.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0195019
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


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