Beyond Markov: Accounting for independence violations in causal reasoning

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Although many theories of causal cognition are based on causal graphical models, a key property of such models—the independence relations stipulated by the Markov condition—is routinely violated by human reasoners. This article presents three new accounts of those independence violations, accounts that share the assumption that people's understanding of the correlational structure of data generated from a causal graph differs from that stipulated by causal graphical model framework. To distinguish these models, experiments assessed how people reason with causal graphs that are larger than those tested in previous studies. A traditional common cause network (Y1←X→Y2) was extended so that the effects themselves had effects (Z1←Y1←X→Y2→Z2). A traditional common effect network (Y1→X←Y2) was extended so that the causes themselves had causes (Z1→Y1→X←Y2←Z2). Subjects’ inferences were most consistent with the beta-Q model in which consistent states of the world—those in which variables are either mostly all present or mostly all absent—are viewed as more probable than stipulated by the causal graphical model framework. Substantial variability in subjects’ inferences was also observed, with the result that substantial minorities of subjects were best fit by one of the other models (the dual prototype or a leaky gate models). The discrepancy between normative and human causal cognition stipulated by these models is foundational in the sense that they locate the error not in people's causal reasoning but rather in their causal representations. As a result, they are applicable to any cognitive theory grounded in causal graphical models, including theories of analogy, learning, explanation, categorization, decision-making, and counterfactual reasoning. Preliminary evidence that independence violations indeed generalize to other judgment types is presented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-84
Number of pages43
JournalCognitive Psychology
StatePublished - Jun 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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