TY - JOUR

T1 - Rational variability in children's causal inferences

T2 - The Sampling Hypothesis

AU - Denison, Stephanie

AU - Bonawitz, Elizabeth

AU - Gopnik, Alison

AU - Griffiths, Thomas L.

N1 - Funding Information:
Thanks to participating daycares and families, as well as Justine Hoch, Ariel Chang, Tiffany Tsai, Madeline Hanson, Sonia Spindt, Beth McCarthy, Jennifer Ng, Jan Iyer, and Christy Tadros for help with data collection. Thanks also to Sophie Bridgers and two anonymous reviewers for feedback on the manuscript and Paul Meinz for consultation on data analyses for Experiment 2. This research was supported in part by the James S. McDonnell Causal Learning collaborative and a Grant IIS-0845410 from the National Science Foundation.

PY - 2013/2

Y1 - 2013/2

N2 - We present a proposal-" The Sampling Hypothesis" -suggesting that the variability in young children's responses may be part of a rational strategy for inductive inference. In particular, we argue that young learners may be randomly sampling from the set of possible hypotheses that explain the observed data, producing different hypotheses with frequencies that reflect their subjective probability. We test the Sampling Hypothesis with four experiments on 4- and 5-year-olds. In these experiments, children saw a distribution of colored blocks and an event involving one of these blocks. In the first experiment, one block fell randomly and invisibly into a machine, and children made multiple guesses about the color of the block, either immediately or after a 1-week delay. The distribution of guesses was consistent with the distribution of block colors, and the dependence between guesses decreased as a function of the time between guesses. In Experiments 2 and 3 the probability of different colors was systematically varied by condition. Preschoolers' guesses tracked the probabilities of the colors, as should be the case if they are sampling from the set of possible explanatory hypotheses. Experiment 4 used a more complicated two-step process to randomly select a block and found that the distribution of children's guesses matched the probabilities resulting from this process rather than the overall frequency of different colors. This suggests that the children's probability matching reflects sophisticated probabilistic inferences and is not merely the result of a naïve tabulation of frequencies. Taken together the four experiments provide support for the Sampling Hypothesis, and the idea that there may be a rational explanation for the variability of children's responses in domains like causal inference.

AB - We present a proposal-" The Sampling Hypothesis" -suggesting that the variability in young children's responses may be part of a rational strategy for inductive inference. In particular, we argue that young learners may be randomly sampling from the set of possible hypotheses that explain the observed data, producing different hypotheses with frequencies that reflect their subjective probability. We test the Sampling Hypothesis with four experiments on 4- and 5-year-olds. In these experiments, children saw a distribution of colored blocks and an event involving one of these blocks. In the first experiment, one block fell randomly and invisibly into a machine, and children made multiple guesses about the color of the block, either immediately or after a 1-week delay. The distribution of guesses was consistent with the distribution of block colors, and the dependence between guesses decreased as a function of the time between guesses. In Experiments 2 and 3 the probability of different colors was systematically varied by condition. Preschoolers' guesses tracked the probabilities of the colors, as should be the case if they are sampling from the set of possible explanatory hypotheses. Experiment 4 used a more complicated two-step process to randomly select a block and found that the distribution of children's guesses matched the probabilities resulting from this process rather than the overall frequency of different colors. This suggests that the children's probability matching reflects sophisticated probabilistic inferences and is not merely the result of a naïve tabulation of frequencies. Taken together the four experiments provide support for the Sampling Hypothesis, and the idea that there may be a rational explanation for the variability of children's responses in domains like causal inference.

KW - Approximate Bayesian inference

KW - Causal learning

KW - Cognitive development

KW - Probability matching

KW - Sampling Hypotheses

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=84871737948&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=84871737948&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.10.010

DO - 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.10.010

M3 - Article

C2 - 23200511

AN - SCOPUS:84871737948

SN - 0010-0277

VL - 126

SP - 285

EP - 300

JO - Cognition

JF - Cognition

IS - 2

ER -