PIs: Prof. Dr. Michael Waldmann, Dr. Ralf Mayrhofer
Institution: Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Causal cognition underlies both scientific and everyday reasoning, which gives it a central role in human rationality. Therefore, causality and causal reasoning belong to the central themes of both the philosophy and psychology of rationality. Several theoretical frameworks focusing on different aspects of causation compete: (1) Dependency theories (e.g., causal Bayes nets) analyze statistical or counterfactual dependencies between causes and effects. (2) Dispositional theories focus on the interaction between causal participants (agents and patients) endowed with intrinsic causal dispositions. (3) Causal process theories model hidden causal processes.
The strict separation between theories of causal reasoning has often prevented researchers from thinking about possible interactions. We believe that a pluralistic approach combining insights from different frameworks will prove superior for modeling everyday causal reasoning. By combining experimental studies with computational modeling, we will explore these interactions.
In the first funding period, we demonstrated in several studies how dispositional intuitions about agency guide the formation and parameterization of causal models. Furthermore, we studied how dispositional assumptions influence causal perception in the Michotte task. In the second funding period, we plan to advance our integrative approach in two main subprojects. The first project follows up on our previous research on causal perception. Whereas in this previous research our focus was on agency, we will take a closer look at how people represent the causal process in the Michotte task. We plan to develop a new theory of causal perception, inspired by medieval impetus theory, and test this theory against the recently proposed noisy Newton account. We will also further explore the interaction between causal processes and agency intuitions. In the second subproject, we will continue to explore the interaction between causal dependency information and dispositional assumptions. In particular, we will investigate the psychological boundary conditions for the plausibility of the transitivity assumption. Transitivity in causal chains means that for all triples of events A, B, and C, it holds that if A causes B and B causes C, it necessarily follows that A causes C. In both philosophy and psychology, it has been debated whether transitivity is a central feature of causation. To control for real-world knowledge, we will use abstract geometric scenarios as learning materials. We will test dispositional boundary conditions of transitivity. Specifically, we will explore how dispositional assumptions triggered by spatial geometric relations between causal events may moderate subjects' belief in transitivity.

Project-related Publications
Mayrhofer, R., & Waldmann, M. R. (2015). Agents and causes: Dispositional intuitions as a guide to causal structure. Cognitive Science, 39, 65-95.
Meder, B., Mayrhofer, R., & Waldmann, M. R. (2014). Structure induction in diagnostic causal reasoning. Psychological Review, 121, 277-301.
Mayrhofer, R., & Waldmann, M. R. (2013). Agency intuitions in physical interactions. In: Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 996-1001).

More publications can be found on this page.

Relation to the SPP1516's first funding period
Project page from the first funding period...