Inferring causal networks from observations and interventions

Mark Steyvers, Joshua B. Tenenbaum, Eric-Jan Wagenmakers, Ben Blum
2003 Cognitive Science  
Information about the structure of a causal system can come in the form of observational datarandom samples of the system's autonomous behavior-or interventional data-samples conditioned on the particular values of one or more variables that have been experimentally manipulated. Here we study people's ability to infer causal structure from both observation and intervention, and to choose informative interventions on the basis of observational data. In three causal inference tasks, participants
more » ... ere to some degree capable of distinguishing between competing causal hypotheses on the basis of purely observational data. Performance improved substantially when participants were allowed to observe the effects of interventions that they performed on the systems. We develop computational models of how people infer causal structure from data and how they plan intervention experiments, based on the representational framework of causal graphical models and the inferential principles of optimal Bayesian decision-making and maximizing expected information gain. These analyses suggest that people can make rational causal inferences, subject to psychologically reasonable representational assumptions and computationally reasonable processing constraints.
doi:10.1207/s15516709cog2703_6 fatcat:xdkyy7gui5dqnpkyivom4wukme