Thinking about different types of uncertainty

S. R. Beck*, E. J. Robinson, M. G. Rowley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter reviews recent work on children's handling of uncertainty. Evidence from behavioural studies suggests that children are able to build alternative models of possible worlds under physical uncertainty (when there is currently no fact of the matter, e.g. a die that has yet to be thrown) but not epistemic uncertainty (where the outcome has been fixed, but is unknown, e.g. a die that has been thrown under a cup). Young children (5- to 7-year-olds) preferred to guess under epistemic uncertainty rather than physical, and were more likely to acknowledge that multiple outcomes were possible under the latter. However, when children were asked to explicitly evaluate their knowledge, there was no suggestion that they have recursive metacognitive understanding of physical or epistemic uncertainty. Manipulations of the task suggested that under epistemic uncertainty children tend to imagine one outcome when possible,and misinterpret this as the actual outcome. The chapter considers our results in the light of related biases in adults' behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFoundations of Metacognition
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191745867
ISBN (Print)9780199646739
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2013


  • Children
  • Development
  • Epistemic uncertainty
  • Metacognition
  • Physical uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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