Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 1548–1554 | Cite as

Causal learning is collaborative: Examining explanation and exploration in social contexts

  • Cristine H. Legare
  • David M. Sobel
  • Maureen Callanan
Brief Report


Causal learning in childhood is a dynamic and collaborative process of explanation and exploration within complex physical and social environments. Understanding how children learn causal knowledge requires examining how they update beliefs about the world given novel information and studying the processes by which children learn in collaboration with caregivers, educators, and peers. The objective of this article is to review evidence for how children learn causal knowledge by explaining and exploring in collaboration with others. We review three examples of causal learning in social contexts, which elucidate how interaction with others influences causal learning. First, we consider children’s explanation-seeking behaviors in the form of “why” questions. Second, we examine parents’ elaboration of meaning about causal relations. Finally, we consider parents’ interactive styles with children during free play, which constrains how children explore. We propose that the best way to understand children’s causal learning in social context is to combine results from laboratory and natural interactive informal learning environments.


Causal reasoning Cognitive development Culture Informal learning environments 


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cristine H. Legare
    • 1
  • David M. Sobel
    • 2
  • Maureen Callanan
    • 3
  1. 1.The University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Brown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  3. 3.University of California, Santa CruzSanta CruzUSA

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