Time as a Guide to Cause

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How do people learn causal structure? In 2 studies, the authors investigated the interplay between temporal-order, intervention, and covariational cues. In Study 1, temporal order overrode covariation information, leading to spurious causal inferences when the temporal cues were misleading. In Study 2, both temporal order and intervention contributed to accurate causal inference well beyond that achievable through covariational data alone. Together, the studies show that people use both temporal-order and interventional cues to infer causal structure and that these cues dominate the available statistical information. A hypothesis-driven account of learning is endorsed, whereby people use cues such as temporal order to generate initial models and then test these models against the incoming covariational data.

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