Kenneth Leising, Jared Wong, Michael Waldmann and Aaron Blaisdell

The special status of actions in causal reasoning in rats

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General

A. P. Blaisdell, K. Sawa, K. J. Leising, and M. R. Waldmann (2006) reported evidence for causal reasoning in rats. After learning through Pavlovian observation that Event A (a light) was a common cause of Events X (an auditory stimulus) and F (food), rats predicted F in the test phase when they observed Event X as a cue but not when they generated X by a lever press. Whereas associative accounts predict associations between X and F regardless of whether X is observed or generated by an action, causal-model theory predicts that the intervention at test should lead to discounting of A, the regular cause of X. The authors report further tests of causal-model theory. One key prediction is that full discounting should be observed only when the alternative cause is viewed as deterministic and independent of other events, 2 hallmark features of actions but not necessarily of arbitrary events. Consequently, the authors observed discounting with only interventions but not other observable events (Experiments 1 and 2). Moreover, rats were capable of flexibly switching between observational and interventional predictions (Experiment 3). Finally, discounting occurred on the very first test trial (Meta-Analysis). These results confirm causal-model theory but refute associative accounts. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Sponsor: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Germany. Grant: WA 621/20-1. Other Details: Y. Hagmayer. Recipients: Waldmann, Michael R.