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Children's hypothetical reasoning about complex and dynamic systems

Nyhout, Angela, Sweatman, Hilary, Ganea, Patricia A. (2023) Children's hypothetical reasoning about complex and dynamic systems. Child Development, 94 (5). pp. 1340-1355. ISSN 1467-8624. (doi:10.1111/cdev.13931) (KAR id:101061)


Children's hypothetical reasoning about a complex and dynamic causal system was investigated. Predominantly White, middle‐class 5‐ to 7‐year‐old children from the Greater Toronto Area learned about novel food chains and were asked to consider the effects of removing one species on the others. In Study 1 (N = 72; 36 females, 36 males; 2018), 7‐year‐olds answered questions about both direct and indirect effects with a high degree of accuracy, whereas 5‐year‐olds performed at chance. Six‐year‐olds showed intermediate performance. Using food chains with clearer constraints, Study 2 (N = 72; 35 females, 37 males; 2020–2021) replicated these findings. These results indicate that the ability to think about hypothetical changes to dynamic causal systems develops between 5 and 7 years. Implications for science education are discussed.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/cdev.13931
Uncontrolled keywords: Developmental and Educational Psychology, Education, Pediatrics, Perinatology and Child Health
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Funders: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (
SWORD Depositor: JISC Publications Router
Depositing User: JISC Publications Router
Date Deposited: 02 May 2023 09:03 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Oct 2023 14:46 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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