Word, Thought, and Deed: The Role of Object Categories in Children's Inductive Inferences and Exploratory Play

Laura E. Schulz, Holly R. Standing, Elizabeth B. Bonawitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations

Abstract

Previous research (e.g., S. A. Gelman & E. M. Markman, 1986; A. Gopnik & D. M. Sobel, 2000) suggests that children can use category labels to make inductive inferences about nonobvious causal properties of objects. However, such inductive generalizations can fail to predict objects' causal properties when (a) the property being projected varies within the category, (b) the category is arbitrary (e.g., things smaller than a bread box), or (c) the property being projected is due to an exogenous intervention rather than intrinsic to the object kind. In 4 studies, the authors showed that preschoolers (M = 48 months; range = 42-57 months) were sensitive to these constraints on induction and selectively engaged in exploration when evidence about objects' causal properties conflicted with inductive generalizations from the objects' kind to their causal powers. This suggests that the exploratory actions children generate in free play could support causal learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1266-1276
Number of pages11
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Volume44
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies

Keywords

  • categorization
  • causal learning
  • exploratory play
  • inductive inference
  • preschoolers

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