A longitudinal study of causal thinking in British middle school children
A multiplex view is taken of causality, and childrens' causal thinking, which is based on current scientific views, Piagetian theory, and the author's interpretation of childrens' causal explanations during the pilot studies. An instrument, devised by the author, for the categorisation and measurement of causal explanation as a means of assessing childrens' causal thinking, is a central feature of this investigation. The instrument is called the Physical Causality Test Battery (PCTB) A sample of 112 middle school children aged 9 - 10 years were investigated in the context of two guiding statements. The first statement included research problems and hypotheses directed to a study of the nature of childrens' causal thinking and its possible relationships with other abilities. One hundred and two out of the 112 children were tested in this part of the investigation. Application of Factor Analysis using a Varimax Rotational Solution indicated that 5 extractable factors emerged. Factor 1 reflected childrens' appreciation of practical causal contexts. Factor 2 indicated a strong element of general achievement as measured by standardised tests. Factors 3 - 5 mainly embraced causal creativity, initial and pluralistic causal components respectively. A one way analysis of variance treatment, indicated only qualified support for Piaget's position on the relationship between causal and operational thinking. The second guiding statement included research problems and hypotheses related to testing an aspect of causal thinking in the 112 children. Eighty of these children were tested on 3 separate occasions at 7 monthly intervals. A further sub-group of 32 Ss were drawn to test for practice effects. A Two Way Anova mixed design (repeated measures), showed highly significant results for between Subjects and within Subjects sources of variation. However, this treatment did not indicate sufficiently small group or individual trends. In response to this, the author devised a descriptive technique termed,Modal Pattern Analysis (MPA), which aimed to detect and monitor change in childrens' causal explanation over time. The application of NPA in the context of a 3 test longitudinal design, revealed four modal patterns, (i.e. linear, progressive, regressive and erratic) to childrens' causal explanations. Childrens' modal patterns appear to be influenced by the nature of the stimulus material, and certain experiential factors. However maturational, mnemonic and motivational processes are likely to be involved. Case studies of causal stimulus items, and studies of individual children showing distinctive modal patterns are discussed. Finally, educational implications and suggestions for further research arising from this study are outlined.