Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Hows and Whys of Biological Change: Causal Flexibility in Children's Reasoning
by Price, Kristin L. Szymanowski, Ph.D., The University of Toledo, 2008, 171; 10631217
Abstract (Summary)

The focus of the current research is the development of causal reasoning in school-age children. In two studies, children and adults were presented with open- and closed-ended questions (question format) about the origins of adaptive features for animals and humans, and functional features for artifacts (e.g., human hands, butterfly wings, chair legs). In a mixed factorial design, participants were assigned to different conditions by question-type (why or how questions). Participants in Study 1 comprised 26 5- and 6-year-olds, and 23 adults; Study 2 included 97 5- to 14-year-olds divided into three age-groups. For the closed-ended questions participants were asked how much they agreed (1-4 scale) with 3 possible causal explanations, representing intentional, functional, and naturalistic modes of reasoning. Responses were analyzed for the number and type of causes endorsed by each age group and whether or not this differed by knowledge domain (animals, humans, artifacts), question type, and question format. Participants in both studies demonstrated causal flexibility by altering their patterns of responding based on all three factors. All age-groups distinguished between question type by offering naturalistic mechanisms for how questions and functions for why questions in the open-ended format. Developmental changes in explanation preference that varied by domain were also revealed. Finally, when presented with three possible explanations in the closed-ended format, children and adults endorsed multiple appropriate explanations to different degrees, though there were age-related changes in this ability. Previous research portrayed children's reasoning as limited in its explanatory power. By varying question type, question format, and knowledge domain this research highlights the fact that causal flexibility is the hallmark of children's reasoning, whatever the age.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Smith, Peg Hull
Commitee: Evans, E. Margaret, Geers, Andrew, London, Kamala, Neff, Lisa, Smith, Peg
School: The University of Toledo
Department: Psychology
School Location: United States -- Ohio
Source: DAI-B 78/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Developmental psychology, Psychology
Keywords: Causal flexibility in children, Development of causal reasoning
Publication Number: 10631217
ISBN: 9780355014976
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