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Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2007 Mar;60(3):400-17.

A dissociation between causal judgement and the ease with which a cause is categorized with its effect.

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School of Paychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


The associative view of human causal learning argues that causation is attributed to the extent that the putative cause activates, via an association, a mental representation of the effect. That is, causal learning is a human analogue of animal conditioning. We tested this associative theory using a task in which a fictitious character suffered from two allergic reactions, rash (O1) and headache (O2). In a conditioned inhibition design with each of these two outcomes (A-O1/AX- and B-O2/BY-), participants were trained that one herbal remedy (X) prevented O1 and that the other (Y) prevented O2. These inhibitory properties were revealed in a causal judgement summation test. In a subsequent categorization task, X was most easily categorized with O1, and Y with O2. Thus, the categorization data indicated an excitatory X-O1 and Y-O2 association, the reverse of the inhibitory relationship observed on the causal judgement measure. A second experiment showed that this pattern of excitation and inhibition is dependent on intermixed A-O1 and AX- trials. These results are problematic for the standard application of associative activation theories to causal judgement. We argue instead that the inhibition revealed in the causal judgement task reflects inferential reasoning, which relies, in part, on the ability of the cue in question to excite a representation of the outcome, as revealed in the categorization test.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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