Evidence for an explanation advantage in naïve biological reasoning

Cogn Psychol. 2009 Mar;58(2):177-94. doi: 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2008.06.002. Epub 2008 Aug 16.


The present studies compare young children's explanations and predictions for the biological phenomenon of contamination. In Study 1, 36 preschoolers and 24 adults heard vignettes concerning contamination, and were asked either to make a prediction or to provide an explanation. Even 3-year-olds readily supplied contamination-based explanations, and most children mentioned an unseen mechanism (germs, contact through bodily fluids). Moreover, unlike adults who performed at ceiling across both explanation and prediction tasks, children were significantly more accurate with their explanations than their predictions. In Study 2, we varied the strength of cues regarding the desirability of the contaminated substance (N=24 preschoolers). Although desirability affected responses, for both levels of desirability participants were significantly more accurate on explanation than prediction questions. Altogether, these studies demonstrate a significant "explanation advantage" for children's reasoning in the domain of everyday biology.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Biology
  • Causality
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Concept Formation*
  • Female
  • Food Contamination*
  • Forecasting
  • Human Development
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Male
  • Midwestern United States