Causal Systems Categories: Differences in Novice and Expert Categorization of Causal Phenomena
Version of Record online: 16 MAY 2012
Copyright © 2012 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Volume 36, Issue 5, pages 919–932, July 2012
How to Cite
Rottman, B. M., Gentner, D. and Goldwater, M. B. (2012), Causal Systems Categories: Differences in Novice and Expert Categorization of Causal Phenomena. Cognitive Science, 36: 919–932. doi: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2012.01253.x
- Issue online: 3 JUL 2012
- Version of Record online: 16 MAY 2012
- Received 24 May 2011; received in revised form 7 October 2011; accepted 23 October 2011
- Causal reasoning;
- Relational categories;
We investigated the understanding of causal systems categories—categories defined by common causal structure rather than by common domain content—among college students. We asked students who were either novices or experts in the physical sciences to sort descriptions of real-world phenomena that varied in their causal structure (e.g., negative feedback vs. causal chain) and in their content domain (e.g., economics vs. biology). Our hypothesis was that there would be a shift from domain-based sorting to causal sorting with increasing expertise in the relevant domains. This prediction was borne out: The novice groups sorted primarily by domain and the expert group sorted by causal category. These results suggest that science training facilitates insight about causal structures.