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Psychol Rev. 2000 Jan;107(1):195-212.

Is causal induction based on causal power? Critique of Cheng (1997).

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Department of Psychology, Philipps-Universit├Ąt Marburg, Germany.


The authors empirically evaluate P. W. Cheng's (1997) power PC theory of causal induction. They reanalyze some published data taken to support the theory and show instead that the data are at variance with it. Then, they report 6 experiments in which participants evaluated the causal relationship between a fictitious chemical and DNA mutations. The power PC theory assumes that participants' estimates are based on the causal power p of a potential cause, where p is the contingency between the cause and the effect normalized by the base rate of the effect. Three of the experiments used a procedure in which causal information was presented trial by trial. For these experiments, the power PC theory was contrasted with the predictions of the probabilistic contrast model and the Rescorla-Wagner theory. For the remaining 3 experiments, a summary presentation format was employed to which only the probabilistic contrast model and the power PC theory are applicable. The power PC theory was unequivocally contradicted by the results obtained in these experiments, whereas the other 2 theories proved to be satisfactory.

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