ABSTRACT: Three experiments examined whether preschoolers recognize that the causal properties of objects generalize to new members of the same set given either deterministic or probabilistic data. Experiment 1 found that 3- and 4-year-olds were able to make such a generalization given deterministic data but were at chance when they observed probabilistic information. Five-year-olds reliably generalized in both situations. Experiment 2 found that 4-year-olds could make some probabilistic inferences, particularly when comparing sets that had no efficacy with sets in which some members had efficacy. Children had some difficulty discriminating between completely effective sets and stochastic ones. Experiment 3 examined whether 3- and 4-year-olds could reason about probabilistic data when provided with information about the experimenter's beliefs about causal outcomes. Children who were more successful on standard false-belief measures were more likely to respond as if the data were deterministic. These data suggest that children's probabilistic inferences develop into early elementary school, but preschoolers might have some understanding of probability when reasoning about causal generalization.
Journal of Cognition and Development. 01/2009; 10(4):262-284.