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Knowledge mediates the timeframe of covariation assessment in human causal induction

Buehner, Marc J. and May, Jon 2002. Knowledge mediates the timeframe of covariation assessment in human causal induction. Thinking & Reasoning 8 (4) , pp. 269-295. 10.1080/13546780244000060

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How do humans discover causal relations when the effect is not immediately observable? Previous experiments have uniformly demonstrated detrimental effects of outcome delays on causal induction. These findings seem to conflict with everyday causal cognition, where humans can apparently identify long-term causal relations with relative ease. Three experiments investigated whether the influence of delay on adult human causal judgements is mediated by experimentally induced assumptions about the timeframe of the causal relation in question, as suggested by Einhorn and Hogarth (1986). Causal judgements generally decreased when a delay separated cause and effect. This decrease was less pronounced when the thematic context of the causal relation induced participants to expect a delay. Experiment 3 ruled out an alternative explanation of the effect based on variations of cue and outcome saliencies, and showed that detrimental effects of delay are reduced even more when instructions explicitly mentioned the timeframe of the causal relation in question. Knowledge thus mediates the impact of delay on human causal judgement. Implications for contemporary theories of human causal induction are discussed.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
ISSN: 1354-6783
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2020 14:30

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