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Q J Exp Psychol A. 2003 Jul;56(5):865-90.

Rethinking temporal contiguity and the judgement of causality: effects of prior knowledge, experience, and reinforcement procedure.

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1
University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK. buehnerm@cardiff.ac.uk

Abstract

Time plays a pivotal role in causal inference. Nonetheless most contemporary theories of causal induction do not address the implications of temporal contiguity and delay, with the exception of associative learning theory. Shanks, Pearson, and Dickinson (1989) and several replications (Reed, 1992, 1999) have demonstrated that people fail to identify causal relations if cause and effect are separated by more than two seconds. In line with an associationist perspective, these findings have been interpreted to indicate that temporal lags universally impair causal induction. This interpretation clashes with the richness of everyday causal cognition where people apparently can reason about causal relations involving considerable delays. We look at the implications of cause-effect delays from a computational perspective and predict that delays should generally hinder reasoning performance, but that this hindrance should be alleviated if reasoners have knowledge of the delay. Two experiments demonstrated that (1) the impact of delay on causal judgement depends on participants' expectations about the timeframe of the causal relation, and (2) the free-operant procedures used in previous studies are ill-suited to study the direct influences of delay on causal induction, because they confound delay with weaker evidence for the relation in question. Implications for contemporary causal learning theories are discussed.

PMID:
12850993
DOI:
10.1080/02724980244000675
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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