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Normative and descriptive accounts of the influence of power and contingency on causal judgement

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Abstract:

The power PC theory (Cheng, 1997) is a normative account of causal inference, which predicts that causal judgements are based on the power p of a potential cause, where p is the cause-effect contingency normalized by the base rate of the effect. In three experiments we demonstrate that both cause-effect contingency and effect base-rate independently affect estimates in causal learning tasks. In Experiment 1, causal strength judgements were directly related to power p in a task in which the effect base-rate was manipulated across two positive and two negative contingency conditions. In Experiments 2 and 3 contingency manipulations affected causal estimates in several situations in which power p was held constant, contrary to the power PC theory's predictions. This latter effect cannot be explained by participants' conflation of reliability and causal strength, as Experiment 3 demonstrated independence of causal judgements and confidence. From a descriptive point of view, the data are compatible with Pearce's (1987) model, as well as with several other judgement rules, but not with the Rescorla-Wagner (Rescorla & Wagner, 1972) or power PC models.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02724980244000738

Affiliations: 1: Universidad de Granada, Spain 2: University College London, UK

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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