Ralf Mayrhofer and Michael Waldmann

Causal agency and the perception of force

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

In the Michotte task, a ball (X) moves toward a resting ball (Y). In the moment of contact, X stops und Y starts moving. Previous studies have shown that subjects tend to view X as the causal agent ('X launches Y') rather than Y ('Y stops X'). Moreover, X tends to be attributed more force than Y (force asymmetry), which contradicts the laws of Newtonian mechanics. Recent theories of force asymmetry try to explain these findings as the result of an asymmetrical identification with either the (stronger) agent or the (weaker) patient of the causal interaction. We directly tested this assumption by manipulating attributions of causal agency while holding the properties of the causal interaction constant across conditions. In contrast to previous accounts, we found that force judgments stayed invariant across conditions in which assignments of causal agency shifted from X to Y and that even those subjects who chose Y as the causal agent gave invariantly higher force ratings to X. These results suggest that causal agency and the perception of force are conceptually independent of each other. Different possible explanations are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Sponsor: New Frameworks of Rationality. Grant: SPP 1516. Other Details: Priority program. Recipients: No recipient indicated