Young Children's Causal Learning from Probabilistic Social and Physical Displays

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The purpose of this project is to explore the origins of scientific reasoning in early childhood through experiments investigating children’s learning about probabilistic cause-effect relationships in informal settings. The studies present 24-month-olds with probabilistic causal displays after which the toddlers are given a chance to intervene to bring about a desirable outcome based on what they observed.


Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, University of Washington

Research Design: 

The project uses a cross-sectional research design and will generate evidence that is causal [experimental]. Original data are being collected on 24-month-old human children (full term, normal birth weight, and have no known developmental concerns) using observation [personal observation and videography]. Two digital cameras record the responses made by participants. Video clips that include only the response periods will be scored for target actions in a random order by a coder who will be blind to the hypotheses of the study and kept unaware of the child's test group. Rigorous scoring procedures, precise operational scoring definitions of target actions, assessment of scoring agreement and appropriate data analysis tests will be used. The obtained distribution of responses will be compared to the null effect using a two-tailed binomial test.


Findings will be posted as they become available.

Publications & Presentations: 

Waismeyer, A., Meltzoff, A., and Gopnik, A. (2015). Causal learning from probabilistic events in 24-month-olds:an action measure. Developmental Science 18:1 (2015), pp 175–182.

Cheryan, S., Master, A., and Meltzoff, A. (2015). Cultural stereotypes as gatekeepers:increasing girls’ interest in computer science and engineering by diversifying stereotypes. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1-8.

Meltzoff, A., Waismeyer, A., Gopnik, A. (2012) Learning about causes from people: Observational Causal Learning in 24-month old infants. Developmental Psychology, 48(5): 1215-1228. doi: 10.1037/a0027440

Target Population: 
Research Design: 


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