Illusory contingency in children at the state fair
Accurate judgments about personal control depend in part on accurate judgments about the contingency of outcomes because noncontingent outcomes are inherently uncontrollable. Yet children often fail to recognize noncontingency when they see it. In a developmental study of such failures, children's contingency judgments were assessed following their participation in chance activities at a state fair. Younger children (aged 6-10 years) regarded the outcomes of these activities as
... is, most of them saw the outcomes of their own performance as caused by skill-related factors and regarded such factors (age, intelligence, effort, and practice) as significantly influencing the outcomes of other children's performance. Older children (aged 11-14 years), by contrast, generally identified the outcomes of their own performance as caused by luck, and they minimized the role of skill-related factors in the performance outcomes of others. Yet even the older children regarded such factors as somewhat relevant to outcomes they predicted for others. This was true even of children at formal operational age levels and of children who explicitly identified outcomes as caused by "luck." Moreover, children at both age levels showed evidence of self-serving bias: Those who had won prizes they wanted saw outcomes as strongly affected by effort, but those who had failed to win did not. The findings support Piaget's views on the pervasiveness of perceived contingency in young children. Consistent with adult literature, however, the findings suggest that neither the attainment of formal operations nor the recognition that luck causes outcomes ensures accurate judgments about control.