Casual Reasoning in the Attribution of Rare and Common Events

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Abstract

Three studies investigated causal reasoning when 2 dispositions—one more common than the other—are both consistently associated with a behavior. Subjects rated the rare disposition as the more important cause when the behavior itself was rare but violated the covariation principle by rating the common disposition as more important when the behavior was relatively common. Results suggest that use of the covariation principle may be the most important heuristic for inferring causality only when the action to be explained is relatively rare. When the behavior is a common one, causal attributions may be more influenced by a principle of generative strength, with observers assigning greater causal importance to the disposition they believe to be stronger.

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