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PLoS One. 2013 Aug 14;8(8):e71303. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071303. eCollection 2013.

Implementation and assessment of an intervention to debias adolescents against causal illusions.

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  • 1Departamento de Fundamentos y MĂ©todos de la PsicologĂ­a, Universidad de Deusto, Bilbao, Spain. itxaso.barberia@deusto.es

Abstract

Researchers have warned that causal illusions are at the root of many superstitious beliefs and fuel many people's faith in pseudoscience, thus generating significant suffering in modern society. Therefore, it is critical that we understand the mechanisms by which these illusions develop and persist. A vast amount of research in psychology has investigated these mechanisms, but little work has been done on the extent to which it is possible to debias individuals against causal illusions. We present an intervention in which a sample of adolescents was introduced to the concept of experimental control, focusing on the need to consider the base rate of the outcome variable in order to determine if a causal relationship exists. The effectiveness of the intervention was measured using a standard contingency learning task that involved fake medicines that typically produce causal illusions. Half of the participants performed the contingency learning task before participating in the educational intervention (the control group), and the other half performed the task after they had completed the intervention (the experimental group). The participants in the experimental group made more realistic causal judgments than did those in the control group, which served as a baseline. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first evidence-based educational intervention that could be easily implemented to reduce causal illusions and the many problems associated with them, such as superstitions and belief in pseudoscience.

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