Seminar Series

Development of perceptual causality

How do children learn about cause and effect? One current view focuses on perceptual causality: We tend to perceive causal links in schematic events. If square A moves up to B, which moves away at or before contact, adults see this as A launching B, or B running from A. Thus adults relate minimal perceptual information to complex notions of mechanical or social causality. Michotte argued that this perceptual causality was independent of other forms of causal understanding and that it provided a developmental origin for the notion of cause. Nowadays, this perspective is not often considered for adults -- in the everyday world perceptual causality is typically confounded with existing causal knowledge, so a separate process of causality perception seems redundant. For children, however, perceptual causality might be very useful, enabling them to recognize causality without requiring prior knowledge and understanding. This talk will discuss recent work with observers from infancy to adulthood on the development of perceptual causality, with particular focus on the distinction between mechanical and social causality.