Michael Waldmann and York Hagmayer (1999)

How categories shape causality

In: False, ed. . Lawrence Erlbaum

The standard approach guiding research on the relationship between categories and causality views categories as reflecting causal relations in the world. In the present study evidence is provided that the opposite direction also holds: Categories that have been acquired in previous learning contexts may influence subsequent causal learning. In three experiments with a total of 128 participants it is shown that identical causal learning experiences yield different attributions of causal capacity depending on the pre-existing categories that the learning exemplars are assigned to. There is a strong tendency to continue to use old conceptual schemes rather than switch to new ones even when the old categories are not optimal for predicting the new effect. This tendency is particularly strong when there is a plausible semantic link between the categories and the new causal hypothesis under investigation.