Mind the Gap: Dispositional Agency Facilitates Toddlers’ Causal Representations

Abstract

Toddlers readily learn predictive relations between events (A predicts B); however, they intervene on A to cause B in few contexts (e.g., when an agent initiates the event.) The current studies look at whether toddlers’ failures are due to the difficulty of initiating interventions or to constraints on the events they causally represent. Toddlers saw a block slide towards a base, but an occluder prevented them from seeing whether the block contacted the base; after the block disappeared, a toy did or did not activate. We predicted if toddlers construed the events causally, then they would expect contact when the toy activated but distance when the toy did not activate. In Experiment 1 toddlers predicted the contact relations only when an agent was potentially present. Experiment 2 confirmed that toddlers believed a hidden agent was present. These findings suggest that dispositional agency facilitates toddlers’ ability to represent causal relationships.


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