The Advantage of Timely Intervention

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Can people learn causal structure more effectively through intervention rather than observation? Four studies used a trial-based learning paradigm in which participants obtained probabilistic data about a causal chain through either observation or intervention and then selected the causal model most likely to have generated the data. Experiment 1 demonstrated that interveners made more correct model choices than did observers, and Experiments 2 and 3 ruled out explanations for this advantage in terms of informational differences between the 2 conditions. Experiment 4 tested the hypothesis that the advantage was driven by a temporal signal; interveners may exploit the cue that their interventions are the most likely causes of any subsequent changes. Results supported this temporal cue hypothesis.

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