Factors that Constrain How Children Reason about Magic
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The purpose of this study was to determine whether preschool-aged children use their knowledge of everyday causal principles to interpret events that explicitly defy those principles ? i.e., magical events. Participants were children between the ages of four and five, who were old enough to understand the task demands but not old enough to have had significant exposure to the fantasy/magic genre. They were shown pairs of spells depicted visually on index cards and asked to sort them into one of two buckets: an ?Easy? bucket, labeled with a picture of Harry Potter, and a ?Hard? bucket, labeled with a picture of Dumbledore. The children sorted 18 pairs of spells, 6 involving physical principles (e.g., a spell for making a basketball float in the air vs. a spell for making a bowling ball float in the air), 6 involving biological principles (e.g., a spell for turning an adult into a teenager vs. a spell for turning an adult into a baby); and 6 involving psychological principles (e.g., a spell for making a person smile vs. a spell for making a person laugh). Children, like adults, demonstrated a statistically reliable sensitivity to the spells? implicit causal ordering, judging spells that represented a greater departure from the status quo as more difficult to perform. Although children?s discriminations were less robust than adults, they were significantly above chance in all three domains, implying that causal expectations guide our interpretation of magical events from an early age.