We propose that children employ specialized cognitive systems that allow them to recover an accurate “causal map” of the world: an abstract, coherent, learned representation of the causal relations among events. This kind of knowledge can be perspicuously understood in terms of the formalism of directed graphical causal models, or “Bayes nets”. Children’s causal learning and inference may involve computations similar to those for learning causal Bayes nets and for predicting with them. Experimental results suggest that 2- to 4-year-old children (...) construct new causal maps and that their learning is consistent with the Bayes net formalism. (shrink)
Recent work has shown that preschool-aged children and adults understand freedom of choice regardless of culture, but that adults across cultures differ in perceiving social obligations as constraints on action. To investigate the development of these cultural differences and universalities, we interviewed school-aged children (4–11) in Nepal and the United States regarding beliefs about people's freedom of choice and constraint to follow preferences, perform impossible acts, and break social obligations. Children across cultures and ages universally endorsed the choice to follow (...) preferences but not to perform impossible acts. Age and culture effects also emerged: Young children in both cultures viewed social obligations as constraints on action, but American children did so less as they aged. These findings suggest that while basic notions of free choice are universal, recognitions of social obligations as constraints on action may be culturally learned. (shrink)
We used a new method to assess how people can infer unobserved causal structure from patterns of observed events. Participants were taught to draw causal graphs, and then shown a pattern of associations and interventions on a novel causal system. Given minimal training and no feedback, participants in Experiment 1 used causal graph notation to spontaneously draw structures containing one observed cause, one unobserved common cause, and two unobserved independent causes, depending on the pattern of associations and interventions they saw. (...) We replicated these findings with less‐informative training (Experiments 2 and 3) and a new apparatus (Experiment 3) to show that the pattern of data leads to hidden causal inferences across a range of prior constraints on causal knowledge. (shrink)
Recent work suggests a strong connection between intuitions regarding our own free will and our moral behavior. We investigate the origins of this link by asking whether preschool-aged children construe their own moral actions as freely chosen. We gave children the option to make three moral/social choices (avoiding harm to another, following a rule, and following peer behavior) and then asked them to retrospect as to whether they were free to have done otherwise. When given the choice to act (either (...) morally or immorally), children avoided harm and abided by rules, but they endorsed their freedom to have done otherwise. When choice was restricted by adult instruction, children did not endorse their free choice and indicated feeling constrained by moral obligation in their explanatory responses. These results suggest that children believe that their moral actions afford free will, but this belief is dependent on their experience of choice. (shrink)
Individual choices are commonly taken to manifest personal preferences. The present study investigated whether social and statistical cues influence young children's inferences about the generalizability of preferences. Preschoolers were exposed to either 1 or 2 demonstrators’ selections of objects. The selected objects constituted 18%, 50%, or 100% of all available objects. We found that children took a single demonstrator's choices as indicative only of his or her personal preference. However, when 2 demonstrators made the same selection, then children inferred that (...) it generalized to other agents of the same kind as the original demonstrator's, but not to agents of a different kind. Lastly, only when both demonstrators blatantly violated random selection (i.e., in the 18% condition) did children generalize the preference even to an agent of a different kind. Thus, from a young age, social and statistical cues inform children's naïve sociology. (shrink)
This paper provides an account of the developmental origins of our belief in free will based on research from a range of ages—infants, preschoolers, older children, and adults—and across cultures. The foundations of free will beliefs are in infants' understanding of intentional action—their ability to use context to infer when agents are free to “do otherwise” and when they are constrained. In early childhood, new knowledge about causes of action leads to new abilities to imagine constraints on action. Moreover, unlike (...) adults, young children tend to view psychological causes (i.e., desires) and social causes (i.e., following rules or group norms, being kind or fair) of action as constraints on free will. But these beliefs change, and also diverge across cultures, corresponding to differences between Eastern and Western philosophies of mind, self, and action. Finally, new evidence shows developmentally early, culturally dependent links between free will beliefs and behavior, in particular when choice‐making requires self‐control. (shrink)
We investigate individual, developmental, and cultural differences in self-control in relation to children's changing belief in “free will” – the possibility of acting against and inhibiting strong desires. In three studies, 4- to 8-year-olds in the U.S., China, Singapore, and Peru (N = 441) answered questions to gauge their belief in free will and completed a series of self-control and inhibitory control tasks. Children across all four cultures showed predictable age-related improvements in self-control, as well as changes in their free (...) will beliefs. Cultural context played a role in the timing of these emerging free will beliefs: Singaporean and Peruvian children's beliefs changed at later ages than Chinese and U.S. children. Critically, culture moderated the link between self-control abilities and free will beliefs: Individual differences in self-control behaviors were linked to individual differences in free will beliefs in U.S. children, but not in children from China, Singapore or Peru. There was also evidence of a causal influence of self-control performance on free will beliefs in our U.S. sample. In Study 2, a randomly assigned group of U.S. 4- and 5-year-olds who failed at two self-control tasks showed reduced belief in free will, but a group of children who completed free will questions first did not show changes to self-control. Together these results suggest that culturally-acquired causal-explanatory frameworks for action, along with observations of one's own abilities, might influence children's emerging understanding of free will. (shrink)
The idea of treating robots as free agents seems only to have existed in the realm of science fiction. In our current world, however, children are interacting with robotic technologies that look, talk, and act like agents. Are children willing to treat such technologies as agents with thoughts, feelings, experiences, and even free will? In this paper, we explore whether children’s developing concepts of agency and free will apply to robots. We first review the literature on children’s agency and free-will (...) beliefs, particularly looking at their beliefs about volition, responding to constraints, and deliberation about different options for action. We then review an emerging body of research that investigates children’s beliefs about agency and free will in robots. We end by discussing the implications for developing beliefs about agency and free will in an increasingly technological world. (shrink)
Young children's social learning is a topic of great interest. Here, we examined preschoolers’ help-seeking as a social information gathering activity that may optimize and support children's opportunities for learning. In a toy assembly task, we assessed each child's competency at assembling toys and the difficulty of each step of the task. We hypothesized that children's help-seeking would be a function of both initial competency and task difficulty. The results confirmed this prediction; all children were more likely to seek assistance (...) on difficult steps and less competent children sought assistance more often. Moreover, the magnitude of the help-seeking requests similarly related to both competency and difficulty. The results provide support for viewing children's help-seeking as an information gathering activity, indicating that preschoolers flexibly adjust the level and amount of assistance to optimize their opportunities for learning. (shrink)
Our conscious abilities are learned in environments that have evolved to support them. This insight provides an alternative way of framing Huang & Bargh's provocative hypothesis. To understand the conflict between unconscious goals and consciousness, we can study the emergence of conscious thought and control in childhood. These developmental processes are also central to the best available current evolutionary theories.
Children learn from people and about people simultaneously; that is, children consider evidentiary qualities of human actions which cross traditional domain boundaries. We propose that Knobe's moral asymmetries are a natural consequence of this learning process: the way gather evidence for causation, intention, and morality through early social experiences.