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Singular Clues to Causality and Their Use in Human Causal Judgment

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Abstract

It is argued that causal understanding originates in experiences of acting on objects. Such experiences have consistent features that can be used as clues to causal identification and judgment. These are singular clues, meaning that they can be detected in single instances. A catalog of 14 singular clues is proposed. The clues function as heuristics for generating causal judgments under uncertainty and are a pervasive source of bias in causal judgment. More sophisticated clues such as mechanism clues and repeated interventions are derived from the 14. Research on the use of empirical information and conditional probabilities to identify causes has used scenarios in which several of the clues are present, and the use of empirical association information for causal judgment depends on the presence of singular clues. It is the singular clues and their origin that are basic to causal understanding, not multiple instance clues such as empirical association, contingency, and conditional probabilities.

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