Exploring the fundamentals of early causal reasoning
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The goal of this dissertation was to identify potential cognitive components of causal reasoning and to investigate their developmental trajectory in early childhood. We specifically focused on executive function (EF) as a potentially fundamental predictor of causal reasoning. While previous research has demonstrated that EF is related to achievement in other academic domains such as reading and math, relatively little attention has been paid to its relationship to scientific processes like causal reasoning, particularly in early childhood. To examine how EF potentially relates to the development of causal reasoning, we recruited 140 3-year-olds and 81 5-year-olds to complete three causal reasoning tasks, a battery of EF tasks, and additional cognitive measures. Results from a series of multiple regressions revealed that EF predicted contemporaneous causal reasoning, even after controlling for the influence of age, processing speed, and vocabulary knowledge. However, less variance than expected was accounted for by EF and additional covariates. We also found that a version of the traditional “blicket detector” task did not correlate with our other two measures of causal reasoning, and was not predicted by EF. Although additional research will be required to further clarify these relationships, the current results suggest that EF has the potential to support causal reasoning. Results are discussed in the broader context of scientific literacy.