Some causal relations refer to causation by commission (e.g., A gunshot causes death), and others refer to causation by omission (e.g., Not breathing causes death). We describe a theory of the representation of omissive causation based on the assumption that people mentally simulate sets of possibilities—mental models—that represent causes, enabling conditions, and preventions (Goldvarg & Johnson-Laird, 2001). The theory holds that omissive causes, enabling conditions, and preventions each refer to distinct sets of possibilities. For any such causal relation, reasoners typically simulate one initial possibility, but they are able to consider alternative possibilities through deliberation. These alternative possibilities allow them to deliberate over finer-grained distinctions when reasoning about causes and effects. Hence, reasoners should be able to distinguish between omissive causes and omissive enabling conditions. Four experiments corroborated the predictions of the theory. We describe them and contrast the results with the predictions of alternative accounts of causal representation and inference.
Paper on omissive causes in Memory & Cognition
I am a Senior Cognitive Scientist at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. I run the Reasoning Lab at NRL, where we study and build simulations of the mental processes that underlie everyday human reasoning.
- New feature in The Reasoner on the Handbook of Rationality
- PNAS paper on truth values outside logic
- Research on mental state reasoning published at CogSci 2023
- JEP: General paper on temporal explanations
- 📄 Now in Psych Review: Computational model of 200+ reasoning problems
- 📄 Cognitive Science paper on reasoning about desires
- 💬 Interview with Künstliche Intelligenze
- 📄 New paper on recursion out in PBR
- 🎉 Congrats to Reasoning Lab alumni Hillary Harner and Laura Kelly!
- 👋🏽 Branden Bio starts his postdoc at NRL!