Selective effects of explanation on learning during early childhood

Cristine H. Legare, Tania Lombrozo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


Two studies examined the specificity of effects of explanation on learning by prompting 3- to 6-year-old children to explain a mechanical toy and comparing what they learned about the toy's causal and non-causal properties with children who only observed the toy, both with and without accompanying verbalization. In Study 1, children were experimentally assigned to either explain or observe the mechanical toy. In Study 2, children were classified according to whether the content of their response to an undirected prompt involved explanation. Dependent measures included whether children understood the toy's functional-mechanical relationships, remembered perceptual features of the toy, effectively reconstructed the toy, and (for Study 2) generalized the function of the toy when constructing a new one. Results demonstrate that across age groups, explanation promotes causal learning and generalization but does not improve (and in younger children can even impair) memory for causally irrelevant perceptual details.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)198-212
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
StatePublished - Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


  • Causal explanation
  • Causal reasoning
  • Cognitive development
  • Early childhood
  • Generalization
  • Learning
  • Self-explanation


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