NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ1158688
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2017-Nov
Pages: 14
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: EISSN-1467-7687
Little Bayesians or Little Einsteins? Probability and Explanatory Virtue in Children's Inferences
Johnston, Angie M.; Johnson, Samuel G. B.; Koven, Marissa L.; Keil, Frank C.
Developmental Science, v20 n6 Nov 2017
Like scientists, children seek ways to explain causal systems in the world. But are children scientists in the strict Bayesian tradition of maximizing posterior probability? Or do they attend to other explanatory considerations, as laypeople and scientists--such as Einstein--do? Four experiments support the latter possibility. In particular, we demonstrate in four experiments that 4- to 8-year-old children, like adults, have a robust "latent scope bias" that leads to inferences that do not maximize posterior probability. When faced with two explanations equally consistent with observed data, where one explanation makes an unverified prediction, children consistently preferred the explanation that does "not" make this prediction (Experiment 1), even if the prior probabilities are identical (Experiment 3). Additional evidence suggests that this latent scope bias may result from the same explanatory strategies used by adults (Experiments 1 and 2), and can be attenuated by strong prior odds (Experiment 4). We argue that children, like adults, rely on "explanatory virtues" in inference--a strategy that often leads to normative responses, but can also lead to systematic error.
Wiley-Blackwell. 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148. Tel: 800-835-6770; Tel: 781-388-8598; Fax: 781-388-8232; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF)
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: DGE1122492