Publication Details

Chan, A. Y. C.. & Scott, J. C. (2008). Preschool children''s counterfactual inferences: the causal length effect revisited. In N. Voudouris & V. Mrowinski (Eds.), Proceedings of the 43rd Annual APS Conference (pp. 105-109). Melbourne: Australian Psychological Society.


Research into young childrens counterfactual thinking is equivocal about how childrens counterfactual responses to causal events may be affected by the length of the causal inference required. This study examined the causal length effect in 3- and 4-year-old children (N=87). Children participated in two counterfactual inference tasks involving causally-related sequences of events. One task entailed counterfactual emotional judgements about the experience of characters in stories, whereas the other task entailed a counterfactual inference about a potential alternative outcome to a physical event. Children at each age level were randomly assigned to answer test questions that required a long, medium, or short counterfactual inference. Four-year-olds outperformed 3-year-olds in both tasks, but this age difference was mediated by childrens language ability. More striking was the complete absence of difference among causal length conditions in both tasks. Our results support other studies that question the nature of the causal length effect in childrens counterfactual reasoning. We discuss the possibility that childrens developing understanding of temporal versus causal relationships may account for discrepant findings regarding the causal length effect.