Send to

Choose Destination
Top Cogn Sci. 2014 Oct;6(4):663-80. doi: 10.1111/tops.12105. Epub 2014 Aug 12.

Identity, causality, and pronoun ambiguity.

Author information

Psychology Department, Northwestern University.


This article looks at the way people determine the antecedent of a pronoun in sentence pairs, such as: Albert invited Ron to dinner. He spent hours cleaning the house. The experiment reported here is motivated by the idea that such judgments depend on reasoning about identity (e.g., the identity of the he who cleaned the house). Because the identity of an individual over time depends on the causal-historical path connecting the stages of the individual, the correct antecedent will also depend on causal connections. The experiment varied how likely it is that the event of the first sentence (e.g., the invitation) would cause the event of the second (the house cleaning) for each of the two individuals (the likelihood that if Albert invited Ron to dinner, this would cause Albert to clean the house, versus cause Ron to clean the house). Decisions about the antecedent followed causal likelihood. A mathematical model of causal identity accounted for most of the key aspects of the data from the individual sentence pairs.


Ambiguity resolution; Anaphora; Causal reasoning; Causation; Identity over time; Pronoun resolution; Singular concepts

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center