Children's thinking about counterfactuals and future hypotheticals as possibilities

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Two experiments explored whether children's correct answers to counterfactual and future hypothetical questions were based on an understanding of possibilities. Children played a game in which a toy mouse could run down either 1 of 2 slides. Children found it difficult to mark physically both possible outcomes, compared to reporting a single hypothetical future event, "What if next time he goes the other way ..." (Experiment 1: 3-4-year-olds and 4-5-year-olds), or a single counterfactual event, "What if he had gone the other way ...?" (Experiment 2: 3-4-year-olds and 5-6-year-olds). An open counterfactual question, "Could he have gone anywhere else?," which required thinking about the counterfactual as an alternative possibility, was also relatively difficult.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)413-426
Number of pages14
JournalChild Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2006