Cognitive Biases in Human Causal Learning

By Maldonado, Antonio; Catena, Andrés et al. | The Spanish Journal of Psychology, July 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Cognitive Biases in Human Causal Learning


Maldonado, Antonio, Catena, Andrés, Perales, José César, Cándido, Antonio, The Spanish Journal of Psychology


The main aim of this work was to look for cognitive biases in human inference of causal relationships in order to emphasize the psychological processes that modulate causal learning. From the effect of the judgment frequency, this work presents subsequent research on cue competition (overshadowing, blocking, and super-conditioning effects) showing that the strength of prior beliefs and new evidence based upon covariation computation contributes additively to predict causal judgments, whereas the balance between the reliability of both, beliefs and covariation knowledge, modulates their relative weight. New findings also showed "inattentional blindness" for negative or preventative causal relationships but not for positive or generative ones, due to failure in codifying and retrieving the necessary information for its computation. Overall results unveil the need of three hierarchical levels of a whole architecture for human causal learning: the lower one, responsible for codifying the events during the task; the second one, computing the retrieved information; finally, the higher level, integrating this evidence with previous causal knowledge. In summary, whereas current theoretical frameworks on causal inference and decision-making usually focused either on causal beliefs or covariation information, the present work shows how both are required to be able to explain the complexity and flexibility involved in human causal learning.

Keywords: causal learning, causal inference, cognitive bias, belief

El objetivo de este trabajo fue la búsqueda de sesgos cognitivos en la inferencia de relaciones causales para descubrir qué procesos psicológicos modulan el aprendizaje causal. A partir del efecto de la frecuencia de juicio, este trabajo presenta investigación consecuente sobre competición entre claves (ensombrecimiento, bloqueo o súper-condicionamiento) para demostrar cómo la fuerza de las creencias previas y la evidencia sobre la covariación de cada causa contribuyen aditivamente en los juicios causales y en la toma de decisiones, siendo su fuerza relativa modulada por la fiabilidad otorgada a cada tipo de información. Nuevos datos muestran también la incapacidad para detectar relaciones causales incidentales preventivas, pero no generativas. Esta "ceguera inatencional" parece deberse a un fallo en la codificación o recuperación de la información. Todos estos datos revelan que una arquitectura cognitiva del aprendizaje causal debe basarse en tres niveles. El primer nivel sería responsable de la codificación de los eventos en cada ensayo. El segundo nivel computaría la nueva evidencia a partir de la información recibida del primer nivel. En el tercer nivel, el individuo debe interpretar e integrar toda esta información con su conocimiento causal previo. En suma, los modelos sobre juicios de causalidad y toma de decisiones normalmente se han centrado en el efecto exclusivo de las "creencias y conocimiento causal" o de la "experiencia directa y covariación" entre causas y efectos. Este trabajo demuestra que ambos tipos de información se requieren e interactúan cuando se trata de explicar la complejidad y flexibilidad que implica el aprendizaje y la inferencia de relaciones causales en humanos.

Palabras clave: aprendizaje causal, inferencia causal, sesgo cognitivo, creencia

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

Causal learning has been an emergent topic of research during the last decades (De Houwer & Becker, 2002; Perales & Catena, 2006) and is one of the most basic psychological components of human cognition, motivation, emotion, and behavior. In many everyday situations, we make causal attributions either consciously or automatically. When we have a headache, the flu, or stomach acidity, we usually take a specific pill under the assumption or causal belief that this pill will make us well. How have we arrived at this causal belief? It seems that at least two factors determine our action. …

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