Research Bulletin: How Children Make Sense of Impossible Events in Fiction

Posted by Guneet Daid | OnFiction: The Psychology of Fiction | Monday, 14 September 2015

“Preschoolers can Infer General Rules Governing Fantastical Events in Fiction,” by J.W. Van de Vondervoort and O. Friedman

This is an interesting article, by Guneet Daid, from OnFiction, about a study, “Preschoolers can Infer General Rules Governing Fantastical Events in Fiction,” by J.W. Van de Vondervoort and O. Friedman, that reveals the ability of children to easily differentiate between fantasy and reality.

Oftentimes, fairytales consist of unrealistic or fantastical events. Although children understand that fantastical fiction differs from reality, it is unclear how they interpret these unrealistic events. A study by Julia Van de Vondervoort and Ori Friedman (University of Waterloo) indicates that children, like adults, use the impossible events to infer general rules about the fantasy world that allow them to predict what will happen in the story.

In their first experiment, 78 children between the ages of 2 and 4 were randomly assigned to either watch the experimenter enact scenarios that demonstrate a rule or a control condition where no rule demonstration was given. In the demonstration condition, a cat behaved unrealistically by making the sound of the animal it was addressing instead of the expected “meow” sound. For example, the cat would address a sheep with “baa baa”. The scenarios provided a fantasy rule that cats make the sound of the animal they are addressing. After children either received a rule demonstration or did not, they were asked to predict what sound the cat would make when it addressed a dog, a pig, a cow, and a snake. Children in the rule-demonstration condition were more likely to predict that the cat would make the sound of the animal being addressed than those in the no rule-demonstration condition. From this we can conclude that children are able to infer a fantasy rule and use it to predict future events.
The second experiment was designed to . . .

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