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Young Children's Understanding of Random Phenomena

Kuzmak, S. D., & Gelman, R.
Child Development

2 experiments on the development of the understanding of random phenomena are reported. Of interest was whether children understand the characteristic uncertainty in the physical nature of random phenomena as well as the unpredictability of outcomes. Children were asked, for both a random and a determined phenomenon, whether they knew what its next outcome would be and why. In Experiment 1, 4-, 5-, and 7-year-olds correctly differentiated their responses to the question of outcome predictability; the 2 older groups also mentioned appropriate characteristics of the random mechanism in explaining why they did not know what its outcome would be. Although 3-year-olds did not differentiate the random and determined phenomena, neither did they treat both phenomena as predictable. This latter result is inconsistent with Piaget and Inhelder's characterization of an early stage of development. Experiment 2 was designed to control for the possibility that children in Experiment 1 learned how to respond on the basis of pretest experience with the 2 different phenomena. 5- and 7-year-olds performed at a comparable level to the same-aged children in Experiment 1. Results suggest an earlier understanding of random phenomena than previously has been reported and support results on the literature indicating an early understanding of causality.