Ralf Mayrhofer and Michael Waldmann

Sufficiency and necessity assumptions in causal structure induction

Cognitive Science

Research on human causal induction has shown that people have general prior assumptions about causal strength and about how causes interact with the background. We propose that these prior assumptions about the parameters of causal systems do not only manifest themselves in estimations of causal strength or the selection of causes but also when deciding between alternative causal structures. In three experiments, we requested subjects to choose which of two observable variables was the cause and which the effect. We found strong evidence that learners have interindividually variable but intraindividually stable priors about causal parameters that express a preference for causal determinism (sufficiency or necessity; Experiment 1). These priors predict which structure subjects preferentially select. The priors can be manipulated experimentally (Experiment 2) and appear to be domain−general (Experiment 3). Heuristic strategies of structure induction are suggested that can be viewed as simplified implementations of the priors. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)

Sponsor: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Priority Program “New Frameworks of Rationality” (SPP 1516), Germany. Grant: Wa 621/22-1; Ma 6545/1-2. Recipients: No recipient indicated