The role of learning data in causal reasoning about observations and interventions

Bjöörn Meder, York Hagmayer, Michael R. Waldmann
2009 Memory & Cognition  
Recent studies have shown that people have the capacity to derive interventional predictions for previously unseen actions from observational knowledge, a finding that challenges associative theories of causal learning and reasoning (e.g., Meder, Hagmayer, & Waldmann, 2008) . Although some researchers have claimed that such inferences are based mainly on qualitative reasoning about the structure of a causal system (e.g., Sloman, 2005), we propose that people use both the causal structure and
more » ... parameters for their inferences. We here employ an ob servational trialbytrial learning paradigm to test this prediction. In Experiment 1, the causal strength of the links within a given causal model was varied, whereas in Experiment 2, base rate information was manipulated while keeping the structure of the model constant. The results show that learners' causal judgments were strongly af fected by the observed learning data despite being presented with identical hypotheses about causal structure. The findings show furthermore that participants correctly distinguished between observations and hypothetical inter ventions. However, they did not adequately differentiate between hypothetical and counterfactual interventions.
doi:10.3758/mc.37.3.249 pmid:19246341 fatcat:2i6faqn2bvfqfifpbcgi3v3uje