Supporting children's counterfactual thinking with alternative modes of responding.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Sarah Beck
  • D Carroll
  • Victoria Brunsdon
  • Charlotte Gryg

Colleges, School and Institutes


To speculate about counterfactual worlds, children need to ignore what they know to be true about the real world. Prior studies yielding individual differences data suggested that counterfactual thinking may be related to overcoming prepotent responses. In two experiments, we manipulated how 3- to 5-year-olds responded to counterfactual conditional and syllogism tasks. In Experiment 1 (N=39), children's performance improved on both conditional and syllogism tasks when they responded with an arrow rather than pointing with a finger. In Experiment 2 (N=42), 3- and 4-year-olds benefited from both an arrow manipulation and, separately, the introduction of a delay before responding. We suggest that both manipulations help children to overcome an impulsive prepotent response to counterfactual questions arising from a default assumption that information about the past is true.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-202
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011