Almost thinking counterfactually: children's understanding of close counterfactuals

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Saying something "almost happened" indicates that one is considering a close counterfactual world. Previous evidence suggested that children start to consider these close counterfactuals at around 2 years of age (P. L. Harris, 1997), substantially earlier than they pass other tests of counterfactual thinking. However, this success appears to result from false positives. In Experiment 1 (N = 41), 3- and 4-year-olds could identify a character who almost completed an action when the comparison did not complete it. However, in Experiments 1 and 2 (N = 98), children performed poorly when the comparison character completed the action. In Experiment 3 (N = 28), 5- and 6-year-olds consistently passed the task, indicating that they made appropriate counterfactual interpretations of the "almost" statements. This understanding of close counterfactuals proved more difficult than standard counterfactuals.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1189-1198
Number of pages10
JournalChild Development
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2011