JEP: General paper on temporal explanations

It may require some effortful thinking and some background knowledge to construct a plausible explanation from scratch, so you need a good reason to do so. One of the most important reasons for why people generate explanations is to resolve inconsistencies. Previous research showed as much: when faced with some inconsistent causal information, reasoners spontaneously construct causal explanations. Those explanations help to serve as a guide for which pieces of information to revise and reject.

New research from our group shows that this pattern holds for temporal statements, too. Reasoners resolved temporal discrepancies by spontaneously constructing temporal explanations, and by treating those explanations are more plausible — and probable — than more minimal alternatives. Laura Kelly led this project, and we recently published its results in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. The abstract is here:

People can explain phenomena by appealing to temporal relations, e.g., you might explain a colleague’s absence at a meeting by inferring that their prior meeting ended late. Previous explanatory reasoning research shows that people construct causal explanations to resolve causal conflicts. Accordingly, temporal explanations may help reasoners resolve temporal conflicts, and we describe four experimental tests of the hypothesis (N = 240). Experiment 1 provided participants with conflicting or consistent temporal information and elicited natural responses about what followed. Participants spontaneously provided temporal explanations to resolve inconsistencies, and only a minority of them provided more conservative, direct refutations. Experiments 2 and 3 showed that participants preferred temporal explanations over simpler refutations to resolve conflicts, and Experiment 4 showed that participants judged temporal explanations more probable than refutations, and thereby yielded a novel class of conjunction fallacies. The research is the first to examine patterns in temporal explanatory reasoning.

and you can download a preprint here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *