Is reasoning from counterfactual antecedents evidence for counterfactual reasoning?



Rafetseder E & Perner J (2010) Is reasoning from counterfactual antecedents evidence for counterfactual reasoning?. Thinking and Reasoning, 16 (2), pp. 131-155.

In most developmental studies the only error children could make on counterfactual tasks was to answer with the current state of affairs. It was concluded that children who did not show this error are able to reason counterfactually. However, children might have avoided this error by using basic conditional reasoning (Rafetseder, Cristi-Vargas, & Perner, 201022. Perner, J. and Rafetseder, E. 2010. "Counterfactual and other forms of conditional reasoning: Children lost in the nearest possible world". In Understanding counterfactuals/Understanding causation, Edited by: Hoerl, C., McCormack, T. and Beck, S. R. New York: Oxford University Press. View all references). Basic conditional reasoning takes background assumptions represented as conditionals about how the world works. If an antecedent of one of these conditionals is provided by the task, then a likely conclusion can be inferred based only on background assumptions. A critical feature of counterfactual reasoning is that the selection of these additional assumptions is constrained by actual events to which the counterfactual is taken to be counterfactual. In contrast, in basic conditional reasoning one enriches the given antecedent with any plausible assumptions, unconstrained by actual events. In our tasks basic conditional reasoning leads to different answers from counterfactual reasoning. For instance, a doctor, sitting in the park with the intention of reading a paper, is called to an emergency at the swimming pool. The question, "If there had been no emergency, where would the doctor be?" should counterfactually be answered "in the park". But by ignoring the doctor's intentions, and just reasoning from premises about the default location of a hospital doctor who has not been called out to an emergency, one might answer: "in the hospital". Only by 6 years of age did children mostly give correct answers.

Basic conditional reasoning; Children; Counterfactual reasoning; Developmental psychology; Realist error; Reasoning from counterfactual antecedents

Thinking and Reasoning: Volume 16, Issue 2

Publication date31/12/2010
Publication date online17/05/2010
PublisherTaylor and Francis (Routledge) for Psychology Press

People (1)


Dr Eva Rafetseder

Dr Eva Rafetseder

Senior Lecturer, Psychology