Tania Lombrozo

Davoodi, T., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Explaining the existential: Scientific and religious explanations play different functional roles. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General , 151 (5), 1199–1218. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0001129Abstract
How did the universe come to exist? What happens after we die? Answers to existential questions tend to elicit both scientific and religious explanations, offering a unique opportunity to evaluate how these domains differ in their psychological roles. Across 3 studies (N = 1,647), we investigate whether (and by whom) scientific and religious explanations are perceived to have epistemic merits—such as evidential and logical support—versus nonepistemic merits—such as social, emotional, or moral benefits. We find that scientific explanations are attributed more epistemic merits than are religious explanations (Study 1), that an explanation’s perceived epistemic merits are more strongly predicted by endorsement of that explanation for science than for religion (Study 2), and that scientific explanations are more likely to be generated when participants are prompted for an explanation high in epistemic merits (Study 3). By contrast, we find that religious explanations are attributed more nonepistemic merits than are scientific explanations (Study 1), that an explanation’s perceived nonepistemic merits are more strongly predicted by endorsement of that explanation for religion than for science (Study 2), and that religious explanations are more likely to be generated when participants are prompted for an explanation high in nonepistemic merits (Study 3). These findings inform theories of the relationship between religion and science, and they provide insight into accounts of the coexistence of scientific and religious cognition. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved)
Ruggeri, A., Walker, C. M., Lombrozo, T., & Gopnik, A. (2021). How to Help Young Children Ask Better Questions? . Frontiers in Psychology , 11, 2908.Abstract
In this paper, we investigate the informativeness of 4- to 6-year-old (N = 125) children’s questions using a combined qualitative and quantitative approach. Children were presented with a hierarchical version of the 20-questions game, in which they were given an array of objects that could be organized into three category levels based on shared features. We then tested whether it is possible to scaffold children’s question-asking abilities without extensive training. In particular, we supported children’s categorization performance by providing the object-related features needed to ask effective constraint-seeking questions. We found that with both age and scaffolding children asked more effective questions, targeting higher category levels and therefore reaching the solution with fewer questions. We discuss the practical and theoretical implications of these results.
Vasil, N., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Explanations and Causal Judgments Are Differentially Sensitive to Covariation and Mechanism Information. Frontiers in Psychology , 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.911177Abstract
Are causal explanations (e.g., “she switched careers because of the COVID pandemic”) treated differently from the corresponding claims that one factor caused another (e.g., “the COVID pandemic caused her to switch careers”)? We examined whether explanatory and causal claims diverge in their responsiveness to two different types of information: covariation strength and mechanism information. We report five experiments with 1,730 participants total, showing that compared to judgments of causal strength, explanatory judgments tend to be more sensitive to mechanism and less sensitive to covariation – even though explanatory judgments respond to both types of information. We also report exploratory comparisons to judgments of understanding, and discuss implications of our findings for theories of explanation, understanding, and causal attribution. These findings shed light on the potentially unique role of explanation in cognition.
Davoodi, T., & Lombrozo, T. (Forthcoming). Scientific and Religious Explanations, Together and Apart. In J. Schupbach & D. Glass (Ed.), Conjunctive Explanations . Routledge.Abstract

Scientific and religious explanations often coexist in the sense that they are both endorsed by the same individuals, and they are sometimes conjoined such that a single explanation draws upon both scientific and religious components. In this chapter we consider the psychology of such explanations, drawing upon recent research in cognitive and social psychology. We argue that scientific and religious explanations often serve different psychological functions, with scientific explanations seen as better serving epistemic functions (such as supporting accurate models of the world), and religious explanations seen as better serving non-epistemic functions (such as offering emotional comfort or supporting moral behavior). This functional differentiation points to a potential benefit of conjunctive explanations: by fulfilling multiple psychological functions, they will sometimes satisfy a broader range of explanatory goals. Generalizing from the case of science and religion, we suggest that conjunctive explanations may be especially appealing when a given explanatory framework faces tradeoffs between different explanatory goals (such as generality versus precision), resulting in an advantage to explanations that draw upon multiple explanatory frameworks instantiating different tradeoffs.

Dubey, R., Griffiths, T. L., & Lombrozo, T. (Forthcoming). If it’s important, then I’m curious: Increasing perceived usefulness stimulates curiosity. Cognition.Abstract
Curiosity is considered essential for learning and sustained engagement, yet stimulating curiosity in educational contexts remains a challenge. Can people’s curiosity about a scientific topic be stimulated by providing evidence that knowledge about the topic has potential value to society? Here, we show that increasing perceptions of ‘social usefulness’ regarding a scientific topic also increases curiosity and subsequent information search. Our results also show that simply presenting interesting facts is not enough to influence curiosity, and that people are more likely to be curious about a scientific topic if they perceive it to be useful personally and socially. Given the link between curiosity and learning, these results have important implications for science communication and education more broadly.
Lewry, C., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Ethical Explanations. Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
“Slavery ended in the United States because slavery is morally wrong.” This explanation does not seem to fit the typical criteria for explaining an event, since it appeals to ethics rather than causal factors as the reason for this social change. But do people perceive these ethical claims as explanatory, and if so, why? In Study 1, we find that people accept ethical explanations for social change and that this is predicted by their meta-ethical beliefs in moral progress and moral objectivism, suggesting that they treat morality somewhat akin to a causal force. In Study 2, we find that people recognize this relationship between ethical explanations and meta-ethical commitments, using the former to make inferences about individuals’ beliefs in moral progress and objectivism. Together these studies demonstrate that our moral commitments shape our judgments of explanations and that explanations shape our moral inferences about others.
Kinney, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Evaluations of Causal Claims Reflect a Trade-Off Between Informativeness and Compression . Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
The same causal system can be accurately described in many ways. What governs the evaluation of these choices? We pro- pose a novel, formal account of causal evaluation according to which evaluations of causal claims reflect the joint demands of maximal informativeness and maximal compression. Across two experiments, we show that evaluations of more and less compressed causal claims are sensitive to the amount of information lost by choosing the more compressed causal claim over a less compressed one, regardless of whether the com- pression is realized by coarsening a single variable or by eliding a background condition. This offers a unified account of two dimensions along which causal claims are evaluated (proportionality and stability), and contributes to a more general picture of human cognition according to which the capacity to create compressed (causal) representations plays a central role.
Foster-Hanson, E., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). What are Men and Mothers for? The Causes and Consequences of Functional Reasoning about Social Categories. Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
Do people attribute functions to gendered social categories? (For instance, is there something men or mothers are for?) And if so, do such attributions of function have consequences for normative judgments about what members of these social categories ought to do? In the current study, participants (N = 366) rated their agreement with 15 statements about the “true functions” of different social categories, in triads of matched masculine, feminine, and superordinate categories (e.g., fathers, mothers, and parents). Participants endorsed functional claims more for some social categories (e.g., parents) than others (e.g., kids), and their background beliefs about gender predicted variation in functional reasoning. However, across categories, participants judged that fulfilling true functions was ‘natural’ for members of the category, and they judged that category members ought to fulfill their true functions.
Oktar, K., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Mechanisms of Belief Persistence in the Face of Societal Disagreement. Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
People have a remarkable ability to remain steadfast in their beliefs in the face of large-scale disagreement. This has important consequences (e.g., societal polarization), yet its psychological underpinnings are poorly understood. In this paper, we answer foundational questions regarding belief persistence, from its prevalence to variability. Across two Experiments (N = 356, N = 354), we find that participants are aware of societal disagreement about controversial issues, yet overwhelmingly (~85%) do not question their views if asked to reflect on this disagreement. Both studies provide evidence that explanations for persistence vary across domains, with epistemic and meta-epistemic explanations among the most prevalent.
Vrantsidis, T., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Simplicity as a Cue to Probability: Multiple roles for Simplicity in Evaluating Explanations. Cognitive Science , 46 (7), e13169. https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.13169Abstract

People often face the challenge of evaluating competing explanations. One approach is to assess the explanations’ relative probabilities – e.g., applying Bayesian inference to compute their posterior probabilities. Another approach is to consider an explanation’s qualities or ‘virtues’, such as its relative simplicity (i.e., the number of unexplained causes it invokes). The current work investigates how these two approaches are related. Study 1 found that simplicity is used to infer the inputs to Bayesian inference (explanations’ priors and likelihoods). Studies 1 and 2 found that simplicity is also used as a direct cue to the outputs of Bayesian inference (the posterior probability of an explanation), such that simplicity affects estimates of posterior probability even after controlling for elicited (Study 1) or provided (Study 2) priors and likelihoods, with simplicity having a larger effect in Study 1, where posteriors are more uncertain and difficult to compute. Comparing Studies 1 and 2 also suggested that simplicity plays additional roles unrelated to approximating probabilities, as reflected in simplicity’s effect on how ‘satisfying’ (vs. probable) an explanation is, which remained largely unaffected by the difficulty of computing posteriors. Together, these results suggest that the virtue of simplicity is used in multiple ways to approximate probabilities (i.e., serving as a cue to priors, likelihoods, and posteriors) when these probabilities are otherwise uncertain or difficult to compute, but that the influence of simplicity also goes beyond these roles.

Brockbank, E., Lombrozo, T., Gopnik, A., & Walker, C. M. (2022). Ask me why don’t tell me why: Asking children for explanations facilitates relational thinking. Developmental Science.Abstract

Identifying abstract relations is essential for commonsense reasoning. Research suggests that even young children can infer relations such as “same” and “different,” but often fail to apply these concepts. Might the process of explaining facilitate the recognition and application of relational concepts? Based on prior work suggesting that explanation can be a powerful tool to promote abstract reasoning, we predicted that children would be more likely to discover and use an abstract relational rule when they were prompted to explain observations instantiating that rule, compared to when they received demonstration alone. Five- and 6-year-olds were given a modified Relational Match to Sample (RMTS) task, with repeated demonstrations of relational (same) matches by an adult. Half of the children were prompted to explain these matches; the other half reported the match they observed. Children who were prompted to explain showed immediate, stable success, while those only asked to report the outcome of the pedagogical demonstration did not. Findings provide evidence that explanation facilitates early abstraction over and above demonstration alone.

Davoodi, T., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Varieties of ignorance: Mystery and the unknown in science and religion. Cognitive Science , 46 (4). Publisher's VersionAbstract
How and why does the moon cause the tides? How and why does God answer prayers? For many, the answer to the former question is unknown; the answer to the latter question is a mystery. Across three studies testing a largely Christian sample within the United States (N = 2,524), we investigate attitudes towards ignorance and inquiry as a window onto scientific versus religious belief. In Experiment 1, we find that science and religion are associated with different forms of ignorance: scientific ignorance is typically expressed as a personal unknown (“it’s unknown to me”), whereas religious ignorance is expressed as a universal mystery (“it’s a mystery”), with scientific unknowns additionally regarded as more viable and valuable targets for inquiry. In Experiment 2, we show that these forms of ignorance are differentially associated with epistemic goals and norms: expressing ignorance in the form of “unknown” (versus “mystery”) more strongly signals epistemic values and achievements. Experiments 2 and 3 additionally show that ignorance is perceived to be a greater threat to science and scientific belief than to religion and religious belief. Together, these studies shed light on the psychological roles of scientific and religious belief in human cognition.
Oktar, K., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Deciding to be Authentic: Intuition is Favored Over Deliberation When Authenticity Matters . Cognition , 223, 105021.Abstract
Deliberative analysis enables us to weigh features, simulate futures, and arrive at good, tractable decisions. So why do we so often eschew deliberation, and instead rely on more intuitive, gut responses? We propose that intuition might be prescribed for some decisions because people’s folk theory of decision-making accords a special role to authenticity, which is associated with intuitive choice. Five pre-registered experiments find evidence in favor of this claim. In Experiment 1 (N = 654), we show that participants prescribe intuition and deliberation as a basis for decisions differentially across domains, and that these prescriptions predict reported choice. In Experiment 2 (N = 555), we find that choosing intuitively vs. deliberately leads to different inferences concerning the decision-maker’s commitment and authenticity—with only inferences about the decision-maker’s authenticity showing variation across domains that matches that observed for the prescription of intuition in Experiment 1. In Experiment 3 (N = 631), we replicate our prior results and rule out plausible confounds. Finally, in Experiment 4 (N = 177) and Experiment 5 (N = 526), we find that an experimental manipulation of the importance of authenticity affects the prescribed role for intuition as well as the endorsement of expert human or algorithmic advice. These effects hold beyond previously recognized influences on intuitive vs. deliberative choice, such as computational costs, presumed reliability, objectivity, complexity, and expertise.