Explanation Scaffolds Causal Learning and Problem Solving in Childhood

  • Justin T. A. Busch
  • Aiyana K. Willard
  • Cristine H. LegareEmail author


Explanation provides a window into what children know and scaffolds causal learning. Here we review research on the contributions of explanation to causal knowledge acquisition and problem solving. We discuss evidence that generating explanations enhances children’s understanding of causal mechanisms and increases their persistence and skill in applying new knowledge to novel contexts. In this way, explanation operates as a tool for learning and is particularly effective in the context of explaining inconsistent or ambiguous information. Explanation also enhances problem solving by allowing children to articulate their knowledge, a process which makes gaps in their current knowledge salient. The process of generating and requesting explanations facilitates the transmission of information and often occurs during interactions with others. We discuss the social context of explanation and the implications for belief revision and for building new knowledge. Explanation works in tandem with discovery-oriented behaviors like question asking and exploration to drive causal learning and improve problem solving.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Justin T. A. Busch
    • 1
  • Aiyana K. Willard
    • 2
    • 3
  • Cristine H. Legare
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Brunel University LondonUxbridgeUK
  3. 3.School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of OxfordOxfordUK

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