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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Domains and naïve theories

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Abstract Human cognition entails domain‐specific cognitive processes that influence memory, attention, categorization, problem‐solving, reasoning, and knowledge organization. This article examines domain‐specific causal theories, which are of particular interest for permitting an examination of how knowledge structures change over time. We first describe the properties of commonsense theories, and how commonsense theories differ from scientific theories, illustrating with children's classification of biological and nonbiological kinds. We next consider the implications of domain‐specificity for broader issues regarding cognitive development and conceptual change. We then examine the extent to which domain‐specific theories interact, and how people reconcile competing causal frameworks. Future directions for research include examining how different content domains interact, the nature of theory change, the role of context (including culture, language, and social interaction) in inducing different frameworks, and the neural bases for domain‐specific reasoning. WIREs Cogni Sci 2011 2 490–502 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.124 This article is categorized under: Psychology > Reasoning and Decision Making

Examples of content‐specific effects on a logical reasoning task (the Wason selection task). Although the logical solution is the same for both scenarios, differences in contextual framing yield different response patterns. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 13. Copyright 1989 Elsevier.)

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Kuhn's30 theory of intellectual competence includes influences of both meta‐cognition and dispositional factors. The interaction of these factors results in theory creation and evaluation. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 30. Copyright 2001 Wiley‐Blackwell.)

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The development of infant knowledge about support during their first year as reported by Baillargeon.21 (Reprinted with permission from Ref 21. Copyright 1998 The International Union of Psychological Science.)

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Summary of experimental trials examining children's sensitivity to statistical information in forming causal expectations. In 3/3 trials, children learned that Block A reliably set off the detector and they selected that block as the cause at rates significantly greater than chance. Children were sensitive to the probability that each block would activate the detector, but their selections were also influenced by their own actions. As can be seen in the 2/3 trials, children employed statistical regularities when they observed the experimenter activating the detector, but when their own experience activating the detector was at odds with the overall statistical regularity of the entire trial, they relied on their own personal action on the detector rather than statistical regularities alone. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 24. Copyright 2005 SAGE Publications.)

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