Alternatives or syntactic negation? Adults’ and children’s preferences for constructing counterfactual possibilities
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Counterfactual reasoningNegationConcretenessEpistemic statusAlternativesMental models
Gómez-Sánchez, J., Moreno-Ríos, S. & Frosch, C. Alternatives or syntactic negation? Adults’ and children’s preferences for constructing counterfactual possibilities. Curr Psychol (2021). [https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-021-02456-2]
SponsorshipCBUA; Spanish Government; Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte FPU15/05899; Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad PGC2018- 095868-B-I00; Universidad de Granada
Reasoning with counterfactuals such as “if his sister had entered silently, the child would have been awake”, requires considering what is conjectured (“his sister entered silently”) and what is the counterfactual possibility (“his sister did not enter silently”). In two experiments, we test how both adults (Study 1) and children from 8 to 12 years (Study 2) construct counterfactual possibilities about the cause of an effect (“the child was awake because…”). We test specifically whether people construct the counterfactual possibility by recovering alternatives, for example, “the alarm clock sounded” or by using the syntactic negation using propositional symbols (“his sister did not enter silently”). Moreover, as children show difficulty in thinking with abstract contents, we test whether they construct the counterfactual possibility more readily by recovering concrete alternatives (“the alarm clock sounded”) rather than abstract alternatives (“he had trouble sleeping”). Results showed that children, as well as adults, recovered the alternative as the cause of the effect rather than the negation. Moreover, children, unlike adults, created the counterfactual possibility more frequently by recovering concrete situations rather than abstract situations.