Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Psychological and Brain Sciences

Committee Chair

Burns, Barbara M.

Author's Keywords

Attention; Storytelling; Causal understanding; Preschoolers; School readiness; Young children


Causation--Psychological aspects; Reading (Early childhood)


Narrative causal understanding is related to a variety of school-related skills such as reading comprehension, and memory. Previous research shows a developmental trend in the ability to use and understand causal connections that begins at age 4 and continually improves up through ages 10 and 11. Researchers posit that this developmental trend in one aspect of narrative ability is explained by an increase in narrative knowledge; children learn more about what is required in narratives they get older. There is a dearth of research on other possible influences on narrative ability. In two experiments, the current study uses a storytelling procedure to investigate narrative ability and causal understanding in 58 preschool children based on a conceptual model of early causal understanding in discourse. In the first experiment it was hypothesized that both individual and age-related differences will be observed in the complexity of causal connections children produce and the distance over which children causally connect. Variations in stimulus complexity (i.e., complexity of the goals of each story) were expected to account for differences in the production of causal connections. In the second experiment it was hypothesized that individual differences in skills related to three attention networks can explain differences in causal understanding. The results show that 3-year-olds can use causal connections during storytelling and that patterns of age-related increases differ depending on the connection type and narrative context. The results also show that attention skills influence specific aspects of causal understanding. The results are consistent with previous storytelling research and research with children diagnosed with ADHD. The current study illustrates the importance of investigating a variety of contextual and child factors that may impact the development of children's causal understanding. Implications for future research and the development early intervention programs are discussed.