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Understanding Counterfactuals, Understanding CausationIssues in Philosophy and Psychology$
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Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack, and Sarah R. Beck

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199590698

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199590698.001.0001

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Multiple Developments in Counterfactual Thinking

Multiple Developments in Counterfactual Thinking

(p.110) 5 Multiple Developments in Counterfactual Thinking
Understanding Counterfactuals, Understanding Causation

Sarah R. Beck

Kevin J. Riggs

Patrick Burns

Oxford University Press

Mapping the development of children’s counterfactual thinking should allow insight in to this process in adults and its relation with causal understanding. We argue that there is not one critical development that should be thought of as marking children’s ability to engage in counterfactual thought. Rather there is a sequence of (at least) four developments that takes place from early to middle childhood. Three-year-olds can generate alternative future worlds, but it is not until children are around 4 that they can speculate about known to be false counterfactuals. Later developments involve representing these counterfactuals as possibilities that could have occurred and relating the counterfactual and real worlds. We consider whether domain general developments in executive function might underpin these developments.

Keywords:   possibilities, executive function, imagination, cognitive development

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