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.
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.
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)
Vasil, N., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Explanations and Causal Judgments Are Differentially Sensitive to Covariation and Mechanism Information. Frontiers in Psychology , 13.
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.
Vrantsidis, T., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Simplicity as a Cue to Probability: Multiple roles for Simplicity in Evaluating Explanations. Cognitive Science , 46 (7), e13169.

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.

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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.
Giffin, C., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Mens Rea in Moral Judgment and Criminal Law. In M. Vargas & J. Doris (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology . Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press. PDF
Vasil, N., Ruggeri, A., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). When and how children use explanations to guide generalizations . Cognitive Development , 61, 101144.Abstract
Explanations highlight inductively rich relationships that support further generalizations: if a knife is sharp because it is for cutting, we can infer that other things for cutting might also be sharp. Do children see explanations as good guides to generalization? We asked 108 4- to 7-year-old children to evaluate mechanistic, functional, and categorical explanations of object properties, and to generalize those properties to novel objects on the basis of shared mechanisms, functions, or category membership. Children were significantly more likely to generalize when the explanation they had received matched the subsequent basis for generalization (e.g., generalizing on the basis of a shared mechanism after hearing a mechanistic explanation). This effect appeared to be driven by older children. Explanation-to-generalization coordination also appeared to vary across relationships, mirroring the development of corresponding explanatory preferences. These findings fill an important gap in our understanding of how explanations guide young children’s generalization and learning.
Liquin, E. G., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Motivated to learn: An account of explanatory satisfaction . Cognitive Psychology , 132, 101453.Abstract
Many explanations have a distinctive, positive phenomenology: receiving or generating these explanations feels satisfying. Accordingly, we might expect this feeling of explanatory satisfaction to reinforce and motivate inquiry. Across five studies, we investigate how explanatory satisfaction plays this role: by motivating and reinforcing inquiry quite generally (“brute motivation” account), or by selectively guiding inquiry to support useful learning about the target of explanation (“aligned motivation” account). In Studies 1–2, we find that satisfaction with an explanation is related to several measures of perceived useful learning, and that greater satisfaction in turn predicts stronger curiosity about questions related to the explanation. However, in Studies 2–4, we find only tenuous evidence that satisfaction is related to actual learning, measured objectively through multiple-choice or free recall tests. In Study 4, we additionally show that perceptions of learning fully explain one seemingly specious feature of explanatory preferences studied in prior research: the preference for uninformative “reductive” explanations. Finally, in Study 5, we find that perceived learning is (at least in part) causally responsible for feelings of satisfaction. Together, these results point to what we call the “imperfectly aligned motivation” account: explanatory satisfaction selectively motivates inquiry towards learning explanatory information, but primarily through fallible perceptions of learning. Thus, satisfaction is likely to guide individuals towards lines of inquiry that support perceptions of learning, whether or not individuals actually are learning.
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.
Dubey, R., Mehta, H., & Lombrozo, T. (2021). Curiosity is Contagious: A Social Influence Intervention to Induce Curiosity . Cognitive Science.Abstract
Our actions and decisions are regularly influenced by the social environment around us. Can socialcues be leveraged to induce curiosity and affect subsequent behavior? Across two experiments, we show that curiosity is contagious: the social environment can influence people’s curiosity about the answers to scientific questions. Participants were presented with everyday questions about science from a popular on-line forum, and these were shown with a high or low number of up-votes as a social cue to popularity. Participants indicated their curiosity about the answers, and they were given an opportunity to reveal a subset of those answers. Participants reported greater curiosity about the answers to questions when the questions were presented with a high (vs. low) number of up-votes, and they were also more likely to choose to reveal the answers to questions with a high (vs. low) number of up-votes. These effects were partially mediated by surprise and by the inferredusefulness of knowledge, with a more dramatic effect of low up-votes in reducing curiosity than of high up-votes in boosting curiosity. Taken together, these results highlight the important role social information plays in shaping our curiosity.
Lombrozo, T., Knobe, J., & Nichols, S. (Ed.). (2021). Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy (Vol. 4) . Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Cusimano, C., & Lombrozo, T. (2021). Reconciling scientific and commonsense values to improve reasoning . Trends in Cognitive Sciences , 25 (11), 937-949.Abstract
Scientific reasoning is characterized by commitments to evidence and objectivity. New research suggests that under some conditions, people are prone to reject these commitments, and instead sanction motivated reasoning and bias. Moreover, people’s tendency to devalue scientific reasoning likely explains the emergence and persistence of many biased beliefs. However, recent work in epistemology has identified ways in which bias might be legitimately incorporated into belief formation. Researchers can leverage these insights to evaluate when commonsense affirmation of bias is justified and when it is unjustified and therefore a good target for intervention. Making reasoning more scientific may require more than merely teaching people what constitutes scientific reasoning; it may require affirming the value of such reasoning in the first place.
Cusimano, C., & Lombrozo, T. (2021). Morality justifies motivated reasoning in the folk ethics of belief. Cognition , 209, 104513.Abstract

When faced with a dilemma between believing what is supported by an impartial assessment of the evidence (e.g., that one's friend is guilty of a crime) and believing what would better fulfill a moral obligation (e.g., that the friend is innocent), people often believe in line with the latter. But is this how people think beliefs ought to be formed? We addressed this question across three studies and found that, across a diverse set of everyday situations, people treat moral considerations as legitimate grounds for believing propositions that are unsupported by objective, evidence-based reasoning. We further document two ways in which moral considerations affect how people evaluate others' beliefs. First, the moral value of a belief affects the evidential threshold required to believe, such that morally beneficial beliefs demand less evidence than morally risky beliefs. Second, people sometimes treat the moral value of a belief as an independent justification for belief, and on that basis, sometimes prescribe evidentially poor beliefs to others. Together these results show that, in the folk ethics of belief, morality can justify and demand motivated reasoning.

Blanchard, T., Murray, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2021). Experiments on Causal Exclusion. . Mind and Language.Abstract
Intuitions play an important role in debates on the causal status of high-level properties. For instance, Kim has claimed that his “exclusion argument” relies on “a perfectly intuitive. . . understanding of the causal relation.” We report the results of three experiments examining whether laypeople really have the relevant intuitions. We find little support for Kim’s view and the principles on which it relies. Instead, laypeople are willing to count both a multiply-realized property and its realizers as causes, and find the systematic overdetermination implied by this view unproblematic..
Lombrozo, T., Knobe, J., & Nichols, S. (Ed.). (2020). Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy (Vol. 3) . Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Goddu, M. K., Lombrozo, T., & Gopnik, A. (2020). Transformations and transfer: Preschool children understand abstract relations and reason analogically in a causal task. Child Development , 91 (6), 1898-1915.Abstract
Previous research suggests that preschoolers struggle with understanding abstract relations andwithreasoning by analogy. Four experiments find, in contrast, that 3-and 4-year-olds (N=168) are surprisingly adept at relational and analogical reasoning within a causal context. In earlier studies preschoolers routinely favoredimagesthat share thematic or perceptual commonalities with a target image(object matches) over choices that match the target along abstract relations (relational matches). The present studies embed suchchoice taskswithin a cause-and-effect framework. Withoutcausal framing, preschoolers strongly favor object matches, replicating the results of previous studies. But withcausal framing, preschoolers succeed at analogical transfer (i.e., choose relational matches). These findings suggest that causal framing facilitates early analogical reasoning.
Gruber, J., Mendle, J., Lindquist, K. A., Schmader, T., Clark, L. A., Bliss-Moreau, E., Akinola, M., et al. (2020). The Future of Women in Psychological Science. Perspectives on Psychological Science , 16 (3), 483-516.Abstract
There has been extensive discussion about gender gaps in representation and career advancement in the sciences. However, psychological science itself has yet to be the focus of discussion or systematic review, despite our field’s investment in questions of equity, status, well-being, gender bias, and gender disparities. In the present article, we consider 10 topics relevant for women’s career advancement in psychological science. We focus on issues that have been the subject of empirical study, discuss relevant evidence within and outside of psychological science, and draw on established psychological theory and social-science research to begin to chart a path forward. We hope that better understanding of these issues within the field will shed light on areas of existing gender gaps in the discipline and areas where positive change has happened, and spark conversation within our field about how to create lasting change to mitigate remaining gender differences in psychological science.
Liquin, E. G., Metz, S. E., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Science demands explanation, religion tolerates mystery. Cognition , 204 (2020), 104398.Abstract
Some claims (e.g., that the earth goes around the sun) seem to call out for explanation: they make us wonder “why?”. For other claims (e.g., that God exists), one might accept that the explanation is a mystery. In the present research, we investigate “need for explanation” and “mystery acceptability” across the domains of science and religion, as a window onto differences between scientific and religious cognition more broadly. In Study 1, we find that scientific “why” questions are judged to be in greater need of explanation and less adequately answered by appeals to mystery than religious “why” questions. Moreover, this holds for both religious believers and non-believers. In Study 2, we find that these domain differences persist after statistically controlling for confidence in the premises of scientific and religious why questions (e.g., that “the earth goes around the sun” and that “there is a God”). In Study 3, we match levels of confidence within-participants, and we find that domain differences in need for explanation and mystery acceptability are systematically related to domain differences in epistemic commitments (whether an explanation is within human comprehension, whether the same explanation is true for everyone) and explanatory norms (whether an explanation should be pursued), which could signal domain differences in epistemic and social functions, respectively. Together, these studies shed light on the role of explanatory inquiry across domains, and point to different functional roles for scientific and religious cognition.
Vasilyeva, N., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Structural thinking about social categories: Evidence from formal explanations, generics, and generalization. Cognition , 204 (2020), 104383.Abstract
Many theories of kind representation suggest that people posit internal, essence-like factors that underlie kind membership and explain properties of category members. Across three studies (N = 281), we document the characteristics of an alternative form of construal according to which the properties of social kinds are seen as products of structural factors: stable, external constraints that obtain due to the kind’s social position. Internalist and structural construals are similar in that both support formal explanations (i.e., “category member has property P due to category membership C”), generic claims (“Cs have P”), and the generalization of category properties to individual category members when kind membership and social position are confounded. Our findings thus challenge these phenomena as signatures of internalist thinking. However, once category membership and structural position are unconfounded, different patterns of generalization emerge across internalist and structural construals, as do different judgments concerning category definitions and the dispensability of properties for category membership. We discuss the broader implications of these findings for accounts of formal explanation, generic language, and kind representation.
Aronowitz, S., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Learning through simulation. Philosophers' Imprint , 20 (1), 1-18.Abstract
Mental simulation — such as imagining tilting a glass to figure out the angle at which water would spill — can be a way of coming to know the answer to an internally or externally posed query. Is this form of learning a species of inference or a form of observation? We argue that it is neither: learning through simulation is a genuinely distinct form of learning. On our account, simulation can provide knowledge of the answer to a query even when the basis for that answer is opaque to the learner. Moreover, through repeated simulation, the learner can reduce this opacity, supporting self-training and the acquisition of more accurate models of the world. Simulation is thus an essential part of the story of how creatures like us become effective learners and knowers.
Plunkett, D., Buchak, L., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). When and why people think beliefs are “debunked” by scientific explanations of their origins. Mind and Language , 35 (1), 3-28.Abstract
How do scientific explanations for beliefs affect people's confidence that those beliefs are true? For example, do people think neuroscience-based explanations for belief in God support or challenge God's existence? In five experiments, we find that people tend to think explanations for beliefs corroborate those beliefs if the explanations invoke normally-functioning mechanisms, but not if they invoke abnormal functioning (where “normality” is a matter of proper functioning). This emerges across a variety of kinds of scientific explanations and beliefs (religious, moral, and scientific). We also find evidence that these effects can interact with people's prior beliefs to produce motivated judgments.
Aronowitz, S., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Experiential explanation. Topics in Cognitive Science , 12 (2020), 1321-1336.Abstract
People often answer why-questions with what we call experiential explanations: narratives or stories with temporal structure and concrete details. In contrast, on most theories of the epistemic function of explanation, explanations should be abstractive: structured by general relationships and lacking extraneous details. We suggest that abstractive and experiential explanations differ not only in level of abstraction, but also in structure, and that each form of explanation contributes to the epistemic goals of individual learners and of science. In particular, experiential explanations support mental simulation and survive transitions across background theories; as a result, they support learning and help us translate between competing frameworks. Experiential explanations play an irreducible role in human cognition—and perhaps in science.
Liquin, E. G., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Explanation-Seeking Curiosity in Childhood. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences , 2020 (35), 14-20.Abstract
Children are known for asking “why?”—a query motivated by their desire for explanations. Research suggests that explanation-seeking curiosity (ESC) is triggered by first person cues (such as novelty or surprise), third-person cues (such as a knowledgeable adults’ surprise or question), and future-oriented cues (such as expectations about information gain or future value). Once triggered, ESC is satisfied by an adequate explanation, typically obtained through causal intervention or question asking, both of which change in efficiency over development. ESC is an important driver of children’s learning because it combines the power of active learning and intrinsic motivation with the value of explanatory content, which can reveal the unobservable and causal structure of the world to support generalizable knowledge.
Liquin, E. G., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). A Functional Approach to Explanation-Seeking Curiosity. Cognitive Psychology , 119 (2020), 101276.Abstract
Why do some (and only some) observations prompt people to ask “why?” We proposea functional approach to “Explanation-Seeking Curiosity” (ESC): the state that motivates people to seek an explanation. If ESC tends to prompt explanation search when doing so is likely to be beneficial, we can use prior work on the functional consequences of explanation search to derive “forward-looking” candidate triggers of ESC—those that concern expectations about the downstream consequences of pursuing explanation search. Across three studies (N = 877), we test hypotheses derived from this functional approach. In Studies 1-3, we find that ESC is most strongly predicted by expectations about future learningand future utility. We also find thatjudgments of novelty, surprise, and information gap predict ESC,consistent with prior work on curiosity; however, the role for forward-looking considerations is not reducible to these factors. In Studies 2-3, we findthat predictors of ESCform three clusters, expectations about learning(about the target of explanation), expectations aboutexport (to other cases and future contexts), and backward-looking considerations (having to do with the relationship between the target of explanation and prior knowledge). Additionally, these clusters are consistent across stimulus sets that probe ESC,but not fact-seeking curiosity.These findings suggest that explanation-seeking curiosity is aroused in a systematic way, and that people are not only sensitive to the match or mismatch between a given stimulus and their current or former beliefs, but to how they expect an explanation for that stimulus to improve their epistemic state.
Ruggeri, A., Xu, F., & Lombrozo, T. (2019). Effects of explanation on children's question asking. Cognition , 191, 21-38.Abstract
The capacity to search for information effectively by asking informative questions is crucial for self-directed learning and develops throughout the preschool years and beyond. We tested the hypothesis that explaining observations in a given domain prepares children to ask more informative questions in that domain, and that it does so by promoting the identification of features that apply to multiple objects, thus supporting more effective questions. Across two experiments, 4- to 7-year-old children (N  = 168) were prompted to explain observed evidence or to complete a control task prior to a 20-questions game. We found that prior prompts to explain led to a decrease in the number of questions needed to complete the game, but only for older children (ages 6-7). Moreover, we found that effects of explanation manifested as a shift away from questions that targeted single objects. These findings shed light on the development of question asking in childhood and on the role of explanation in learning.
Edwards, B. J., Williams, J. J., Gentner, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2019). Explanation recruits comparison in a category-learning task. Cognition , 185, 21-38.Abstract
Generating explanations can be highly effective in promoting category learning; however, the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. We propose that engaging in explanation can recruit comparison processes, and that this in turn contributes to the effectiveness of explanation in supporting category learning. Three experiments evaluated the interplay between explanation and various comparison strategies in learning artificial categories. In Experiment 1, as expected, prompting participants to explain items’ category membership led to (a) higher ratings of self-reported comparison processing and (b) increased likelihood of discovering a rule underlying category membership. Indeed, prompts to explain led to more self- reported comparison than did direct prompts to compare pairs of items. Experiment 2 showed that prompts to compare all members of a particular category (“group comparison”) were more effective in supporting rule learning than were pairwise comparison prompts. Experiment 3 found that group comparison (as assessed by self-report) partially mediated the relationship between explanation and category learning. These results suggest that one way in which explanation benefits category learning is by inviting comparisons in the service of identifying broad patterns.
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Kon, E., & Lombrozo, T. (2019). Scientific Discovery and the Human Drive to Explain. In D. A. Wilkenfeld & R. Samuels (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Philosophy of Science (pp. 15-40) . Bloomsbury Academic. PDF
Lombrozo, T. (2019). “Learning by Thinking” in Science and in Everyday Life. In A. Levy & P. Godfrey-Smith (Ed.), The Scientific Imagination (pp. 230-249) . Oxford University Press.Abstract
This chapter introduces “learning by thinking” (LbT) as a form of learning distinct from familiar forms of learning through observation. When learning by thinking, the learner gains genuinely new insight in the absence of novel observations “outside the head.” Scientific thought experiments are canonical examples, but the phenomenon is much more widespread, and includes learning by explaining to oneself, through analogical reasoning, or through mental simulation. The chapter argues that episodes of LbT can be re-expressed as explicit arguments or inferences but are neither psychologically nor epistemically reducible to explicit arguments or inferences, and that this partially explains the novelty of the conclusions reached through LbT. It also introduces a new perspective on the epistemic value of LbT processes as practices with potentially beneficial epistemic consequences, even when the commitments they invoke and the conclusions they immediately deliver are not themselves true.
Lombrozo, T., & Wilkenfeld, D. (2019). Mechanistic versus functional understanding. In S. R. Grimm (Ed.), Varieties of Understanding: New Perspectives from Philosophy, Psychology, and Theology (pp. 209-229) . New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Abstract
Many natural and artificial entities can be predicted and explained both mechanistically, in term of parts and proximate causal processes, as well as functionally, in terms of functions and goals. Do these distinct “stances” or “modes of construal” support fundamentally different kinds of understanding? Based on recent work in epistemology and philosophy of science, as well as empirical evidence from cognitive and developmental psychology, we argue for what we call the “weak differentiation thesis”: the claim that mechanistic and functional understanding are distinct in that they involve importantly different objects. We also consider more tentative arguments for the “strong differentiation thesis”: the claim that mechanistic and functional understanding involve different epistemic relationships between mind and world.
Gottleib, S., & Lombrozo, T. (2019). What are the limits of scientific explanation? In K. McCain & K. Kampourakis (Ed.), What is Scientific Knowledge? An Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology of Science . Routledge. PDF
Vasilyeva, N., Gopnik, A., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). The development of structural thinking about social categories. Developmental Psychology.
Representations of social categories help us make sense of the social world, supporting predictions and explanations about groups and individuals. In an experiment with 156 participants, we explore whether children and adults are able to understand category-property associations (such as the association between “girls” and “pink”) in structural terms, locating an object of explanation within a larger structure and identifying structural constraints that act on elements of the structure. We show that children as young as 3-4 years old show signs of structural thinking, and that 5-6 year olds show additional differentiation between structural and nonstructural thinking, yet still fall short of adult performance. These findings introduce structural connections as a new type of non-accidental relationship between a property and a category, and present a viable alternative to internalist accounts of social categories, such as psychological essentialism.
Blanchard, T., Lombrozo, T., & Nichols, S. (2018). Bayesian occam's razor is a razor of the people. Cognitive Science , 42 (4), 1345-1359.
Occam's razor-the idea that all else being equal, we should pick the simpler hypothesis-plays a prominent role in ordinary and scientific inference. But why are simpler hypotheses better? One attractive hypothesis known as Bayesian Occam's razor (BOR) is that more complex hypotheses tend to be more flexible-they can accommodate a wider range of possible data-and that flexibility is automatically penalized by Bayesian inference. In two experiments, we provide evidence that people's intuitive probabilistic and explanatory judgments follow the prescriptions of BOR. In particular, people's judgments are consistent with the two most distinctive characteristics of BOR: They penalize hypotheses as a function not only of their numbers of free parameters but also as a function of the size of the parameter space, and they penalize those hypotheses even when their parameters can be "tuned" to fit the data better than comparatively simpler hypotheses.
Blanchard, T., Vasilyeva, N., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Stability, breadth and guidance. Philosophical Studies , 175 (9), 2263–2283.

Much recent work on explanation in the interventionist tradition emphasizes the explanatory value of stable causal generalizations—i.e., causal generalizations that remain true in a wide range of background circumstances. We argue that two separate explanatory virtues are lumped together under the heading of `stability’. We call these two virtues breadth and guidancerespectively. In our view, these two virtues are importantly distinct, but this fact is neglected or at least under-appreciated in the literature on stability. We argue that an adequate theory of explanatory goodness should recognize breadth and guidance as distinct virtues, as breadth and guidance track different ideals of explanation, satisfy different cognitive and pragmatic ends, and play different theoretical roles in (for example) helping us understand the explanatory value of mechanisms. Thus keeping track of the distinction between these two forms of stability yields a more accurate and perspicuous picture of the role that stability considerations play in explanation.

Giffin, C., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). An actor's knowledge and intent are more important in evaluating moral transgressions than conventional transgressions. Cognitive Science , 42 Suppl 1, 105-133.
An actor's mental states-whether she acted knowingly and with bad intentions-typically play an important role in evaluating the extent to which an action is wrong and in determining appropriate levels of punishment. In four experiments, we find that this role for knowledge and intent is significantly weaker when evaluating transgressions of conventional rules as opposed to moral rules. We also find that this attenuated role for knowledge and intent is partly due to the fact that conventional rules are judged to be more arbitrary than moral rules; whereas moral transgressions are associated with actions that are intrinsically wrong (e.g., hitting another person), conventional transgressions are associated with actions that are only contingently wrong (e.g., wearing pajamas to school, which is only wrong if it violates a dress code that could have been otherwise). Finally, we find that it is the perpetrator's belief about the arbitrary or non-arbitrary basis of the rule-not the reality-that drives this differential effect of knowledge and intent across types of transgressions.
Gottlieb, S., Keltner, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Awe as a scientific emotion. Cognitive Science , 42 (6), 2081-2094.

Awe has traditionally been considered a religious or spiritual emotion, yet scientists often report that awe motivates them to answer questions about the natural world, and to do so in naturalistic terms. Indeed, awe may be closely related to scientific discovery and theoretical advance. Awe is typically triggered by something vast (either literally or metaphorically) and initiates processes of accommodation, in which existing mental schemas are revised to make sense of the awe‐inspiring stimuli. This process of accommodation is essential for the kind of belief revision that characterizes scientific reasoning and theory change. Across six studies, we find that the tendency to experience awe is positively associated with scientific thinking, and that this association is not shared by other positive emotions. Specifically, we show that the disposition to experience awe predicts a more accurate understanding of how science works, rejection of creationism, and rejection of unwarranted teleological explanations more broadly.

Gottlieb, S., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Can science explain the human mind? Intuitive judgments about the limits of science. Psychological Science , 29 (1), 121-130.
Can science explain romantic love, morality, and religious belief? We documented intuitive beliefs about the limits of science in explaining the human mind. We considered both epistemic evaluations (concerning whether science could possibly fully explain a given psychological phenomenon) and nonepistemic judgments (concerning whether scientific explanations for a given phenomenon would generate discomfort), and we identified factors that characterize phenomena judged to fall beyond the scope of science. Across six studies, we found that participants were more likely to judge scientific explanations for psychological phenomena to be impossible and uncomfortable when, among other factors, they support first-person, introspective access (e.g., feeling empathetic as opposed to reaching for objects), contribute to making humans exceptional (e.g., appreciating music as opposed to forgetfulness), and involve conscious will (e.g., acting immorally as opposed to having headaches). These judgments about the scope of science have implications for science education, policy, and the public reception of psychological science.
Liquin, E. G., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Structure-function fit underlies the evaluation of teleological explanations. Cognitive Psychology , 107, 22-43.
Teleological explanations, which appeal to a function or purpose (e.g., “kangaroos have long tails for balance”), seem to play a special role within the biological domain. We propose that such explanations are compelling because they are evaluated on the basis of a salient cue: structure-function fit, or the correspondence between a biological feature’s form (e.g., tail length) and its function (e.g., balance). Across five studies with 843 participants in total, we find support for three predictions that follow from this proposal. First, we find that function information decreases reliance on mechanistic considerations when evaluating explanations (Experiments 1- 3), indicating the presence of a salient, function-based cue. Second, we demonstrate that structure-function fit is the best candidate for this cue (Experiments 3-4). Third, we show that scientifically-unwarranted teleological explanations are more likely to be accepted under speeded and unspeeded conditions when they are high in structure-function fit (Experiment 5). Experiment 5 also finds that structure-function fit extends beyond biology to teleological explanations in other domains. Jointly, these studies provide a new account of how teleological explanations are evaluated and why they are often (but not universally) compelling.
Lombrozo, T., Bonawitz, E. B., & Scalise, N. R. (2018). Young children’s learning and generalization of teleological and mechanistic explanations. Journal of Cognition and Development , 19 (2), 220-232.

Young children often endorse explanations of the natural world that appeal to functions or purpose—for example, that rocks are pointy so animals can scratch on them. By contrast, most Western-educated adults reject such explanations. What accounts for this change? We investigated 4- to 5-year-old children’s ability to generalize the form of an explanation from examples by presenting them with novel teleological explanations, novel mechanistic explanations, or no explanations for 5 nonliving natural objects. We then asked children to explain novel instances of the same objects and novel kinds of objects. We found that children were able to learn and generalize explanations of both types, suggesting an ability to draw generalizations over the form of an explanation. We also found that teleological and mechanistic explanations were learned and generalized equally well, suggesting that if a domain-general teleological bias exists, it does not manifest as a bias in learning or generalization.

Vasilyeva, N., Blanchard, T., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Stable causal relationships are better causal relationships. Cognitive Science , 42 (4), 1265-1296.
We report three experiments investigating whether people's judgments about causal relationships are sensitive to the robustness or stability of such relationships across a range of background circumstances. In Experiment 1, we demonstrate that people are more willing to endorse causal and explanatory claims based on stable (as opposed to unstable) relationships, even when the overall causal strength of the relationship is held constant. In Experiment 2, we show that this effect is not driven by a causal generalization's actual scope of application. In Experiment 3, we offer evidence that stable causal relationships may be seen as better guides to action. Collectively, these experiments document a previously underappreciated factor that shapes people's causal reasoning: the stability of the causal relationship.
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Wilkenfeld, D. A., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Explanation classification depends on understanding: extending the epistemic side-effect effect. Synthese.

Our goal in this paper is to experimentally investigate whether folk conceptions of explanation are psychologistic. In particular, are people more likely to classify speech acts as explanations when they cause understanding in their recipient? The empirical evidence that we present suggests this is so. Using the side-effect effect as a marker of mental state ascriptions, we argue that lay judgments of explanatory status are mediated by judgments of a speaker’s and/or audience’s mental states. First, we show that attributions of both understanding and explanation exhibit a side-effect effect. Next, we show that when the speaker’s and audience’s level of understanding is stipulated, the explanation side-effect effect goes away entirely. These results not only extend the side-effect effect to attributions of understanding, they also suggest that attributions of explanation exhibit a side-effect effect because they depend upon attributions of understanding, supporting the idea that folk conceptions of explanation are psychologistic.

Wilkenfeld, D. A., Plunkett, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Folk attributions of understanding: is there a role for epistemic luck? Episteme , 15 (1), 24-49 . Cambridge University Press.

As a strategy for exploring the relationship between understanding and knowledge, we consider whether epistemic luck – which is typically thought to undermine knowledge – undermines understanding. Questions about the etiology of understanding have also been at the heart of recent theoretical debates within epistemology. Kvanvig (2003) put forward the argument that there could be lucky understanding and produced an example that he deemed persuasive. Grimm (2006) responded with a case that, he argued, demonstrated that there could not be lucky understanding. In this paper, we empirically examine how participants' patterns of understanding attributions line up with the predictions of Kvanvig and Grimm. We argue that the data challenge Kvanvig's position. People do not differentiate between knowing-why and understanding-why on the basis of proper etiology: attributions of knowledge and understanding involve comparable (and minimal) roles for epistemic luck. We thus posit that folk knowledge and understanding are etiologically symmetrical.

Gottlieb, S., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Folk theories in the moral domain. In K. Gray & J. Graham (Ed.), Atlas of Moral Psychology (pp. 320) . Guilford Publications.Abstract
Is morality intuitive or deliberative? This distinction can obscure the role of folk moral theories in moral judgment; judgments may arise “intuitively” yet result from abstract theoretical and philosophical commitments that participate in “deliberative” reasoning.
Lombrozo, T., Knobe, J., & Nichols, S. (Ed.). (2018). Oxford studies in experimental philosophy (Vol. 2) . Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Giffin, C., Wilkenfeld, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2017). The explanatory effect of a label: Explanations with named categories are more satisfying. Cognition , 168, 357-369. 10.1016/j.cognition.2017.07.011Abstract
Can opium's tendency to induce sleep be explained by appeal to a "dormitive virtue"? If the label merely references the tendency being explained, the explanation seems vacuous. Yet the presence of a label could signal genuinely explanatory content concerning the (causal) basis for the property being explained. In Experiments 1 and 2, we find that explanations for a person's behavior that appeal to a named tendency or condition are indeed judged to be more satisfying than equivalent explanations that differ only in omitting the name. In Experiment 3, we find support for one proposal concerning what it is about a name that drives a boost in explanatory satisfaction: named categories lead people to draw an inference to the existence of a cause underlying the category, a cause that is responsible for the behavior being explained. Our findings have implications for theories of explanation and point to the central role of causation in explaining behavior.
Murray, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2017). Effects of manipulation on attributions of causation, free will, and moral responsibility. Cognitive Science , 41 (2), 447-481.
If someone brings about an outcome without intending to, is she causally and morally responsible for it? What if she acts intentionally, but as the result of manipulation by another agent? Previous research has shown that an agent's mental states can affect attributions of causal and moral responsibility to that agent, but little is known about what effect one agent's mental states can have on attributions to another agent. In Experiment 1, we replicate findings that manipulation lowers attributions of responsibility to manipulated agents. Experiments 2-7 isolate which features of manipulation drive this effect, a crucial issue for both philosophical debates about free will and attributions of responsibility in situations involving social influence more generally. Our results suggest that "bypassing" a manipulated agent's mental states generates the greatest reduction in responsibility, and we explain our results in terms of the effects that one agent's mental states can have on the counterfactual relations between another agent and an outcome.
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Pacer, M., & Lombrozo, T. (2017). Ockham's razor cuts to the root: Simplicity in causal explanation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General , 146 (12), 1761-1780.
When evaluating causal explanations, simpler explanations are widely regarded as better explanations. However, little is known about how people assess simplicity in causal explanations or what the consequences of such a preference are. We contrast 2 candidate metrics for simplicity in causal explanations: node simplicity (the number of causes invoked in an explanation) and root simplicity (the number of unexplained causes invoked in an explanation). Across 4 experiments, we find that explanatory preferences track root simplicity, not node simplicity; that a preference for root simplicity is tempered (but not eliminated) by probabilistic evidence favoring a more complex explanation; that committing to a less likely but simpler explanation distorts memory for past observations; and that a preference for root simplicity is greater when the root cause is strongly linked to its effects. We suggest that a preference for root-simpler explanations follows from the role of explanations in highlighting and efficiently representing and communicating information that supports future predictions and interventions. (PsycINFO Database Record
Vasilyeva, N., Wilkenfeld, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2017). Contextual utility affects the perceived quality of explanations. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review , 24 (5), 1436-1450.
Are explanations of different kinds (formal, mechanistic, teleological) judged differently depending on their contextual utility, defined as the extent to which they support the kinds of inferences required for a given task? We report three studies demonstrating that the perceived "goodness" of an explanation depends on the evaluator's current task: Explanations receive a relative boost when they support task-relevant inferences, even when all three explanation types are warranted. For example, mechanistic explanations receive higher ratings when participants anticipate making further inferences on the basis of proximate causes than when they anticipate making further inferences on the basis of category membership or functions. These findings shed light on the functions of explanation and support pragmatic and pluralist approaches to explanation.
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Walker, C. M., Bonawitz, E., & Lombrozo, T. (2017). Effects of explaining on children's preference for simpler hypotheses. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review , 24 (5), 1538-1547.
Research suggests that the process of explaining influences causal reasoning by prompting learners to favor hypotheses that offer "good" explanations. One feature of a good explanation is its simplicity. Here, we investigate whether prompting children to generate explanations for observed effects increases the extent to which they favor causal hypotheses that offer simpler explanations, and whether this changes over the course of development. Children aged 4, 5, and 6 years observed several outcomes that could be explained by appeal to a common cause (the simple hypothesis) or two independent causes (the complex hypothesis). We varied whether children were prompted to explain each observation or, in a control condition, to report it. Children were then asked to make additional inferences for which the competing hypotheses generated different predictions. The results revealed developmental differences in the extent to which children favored simpler hypotheses as a basis for further inference in this task: 4-year-olds did not favor the simpler hypothesis in either condition; 5-year-olds favored the simpler hypothesis only when prompted to explain; and 6-year-olds favored the simpler hypothesis whether or not they explained.
Walker, C. M., & Lombrozo, T. (2017). Explaining the moral of the story. Cognition , 167, 266-281.
Although storybooks are often used as pedagogical tools for conveying moral lessons to children, the ability to spontaneously extract "the moral" of a story develops relatively late. Instead, children tend to represent stories at a concrete level - one that highlights surface features and understates more abstract themes. Here we examine the role of explanation in 5- and 6-year-old children's developing ability to learn the moral of a story. Two experiments demonstrate that, relative to a control condition, prompts to explain aspects of a story facilitate children's ability to override salient surface features, abstract the underlying moral, and generalize that moral to novel contexts. In some cases, generating an explanation is more effective than being explicitly told the moral of the story, as in a more traditional pedagogical exchange. These findings have implications for moral comprehension, the role of explanation in learning, and the development of abstract reasoning in early childhood.
Walker, C. M., Lombrozo, T., Williams, J. J., Rafferty, A. N., & Gopnik, A. (2017). Explaining constrains causal learning in childhood. Child Development , 88 (1), 229-246.
Three experiments investigate how self-generated explanation influences children's causal learning. Five-year-olds (N = 114) observed data consistent with two hypotheses and were prompted to explain or to report each observation. In Study 1, when making novel generalizations, explainers were more likely to favor the hypothesis that accounted for more observations. In Study 2, explainers favored a hypothesis that was consistent with prior knowledge. Study 3 pitted a hypothesis that accounted for more observations against a hypothesis consistent with prior knowledge. Explainers were more likely to base generalizations on prior knowledge. Findings suggest that attempts to explain drive children to evaluate hypotheses using features of "good" explanations, or those supporting generalizations with broad scope, as informed by children's prior knowledge and observations.
Lombrozo, T., & Vasilyeva, N. (2017). Causal explanation. In M. Waldmann (Ed.), Oxford Handbook of Causal Reasoning (pp. 415–432) . Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Abstract
Explanation and causation are intimately related. Explanations often appeal to causes, and causal claims are often answers to implicit or explicit questions about why or how something occurred. In this chapter we consider what research on explanation can tell us about causal reasoning. In particular, we review an emerging body of work suggesting that explanatory considerations – such as the simplicity or scope of a causal hypothesis – can systematically influence causal inference and learning. We also discuss proposed distinctions among types of explanations and review their differential effects on causal reasoning and representation. Finally, we consider the relationship between explanations and causal mechanisms and raise important questions for future research.
Giffin, C., & Lombrozo, T. (2016). Wrong or merely prohibited: Special treatment of strict liability in intuitive moral judgment. Law and Human Behavior , 40 (6), 707-720.Abstract
Most crimes in America require that the defendant have mens rea, Latin for "guilty mind." However, mens rea is not legally required for strict liability crimes, such as speeding, for which someone is guilty even if ignorant or deceived about her speed. In 3 experiments involving participants responding to descriptive vignettes, we investigated whether the division of strict liability crimes in the law reflects an aspect of laypeople's intuitive moral cognition. Experiment 1 (N = 396; 236 male, 159 female, 1 other; M = 30) found evidence that it does: ignorance and deception were less mitigating for strict liability crimes than for "mens rea" crimes. Experiments 2 (N = 413; 257 male, 154 female, 2 other; M = 31) and 3 (N = 404; 183 male, 221 female, M = 35) revealed that strict liability crimes are not treated as pure moral violations, but additionally as violations of convention. We found that for strict liability crimes, ratings of moral wrongness and punishment were influenced to a greater extent by the fact that a rule had been violated, even when harm was kept constant, mirroring the legal distinction of malum prohibitum (wrong as prohibited) versus malum in se (wrong in itself). Further, we found that rules prohibiting strict liability crimes were judged more arbitrary than corresponding rules for "mens rea" crimes, and that this judgment was related to the role of mental states. Jointly, the findings suggest a surprising correspondence between the law and laypeople's intuitive judgments. (PsycINFO Database Record
Lombrozo, T. (2016). Explanatory preferences shape learning and inference. Trends in Cognitive Sciences , 20 (10), 748-759.
Explanations play an important role in learning and inference. People often learn by seeking explanations, and they assess the viability of hypotheses by considering how well they explain the data. An emerging body of work reveals that both children and adults have strong and systematic intuitions about what constitutes a good explanation, and that these explanatory preferences have a systematic impact on explanation-based processes. In particular, people favor explanations that are simple and broad, with the consequence that engaging in explanation can shape learning and inference by leading people to seek patterns and favor hypotheses that support broad and simple explanations. Given the prevalence of explanation in everyday cognition, understanding explanation is therefore crucial to understanding learning and inference.
Ruggeri, A., Lombrozo, T., Griffiths, T. L., & Xu, F. (2016). Sources of developmental change in the efficiency of information search. Developmental Psychology , 52 (12), 2159-2173.
Children are active learners: they learn not only from the information people offer and the evidence they happen to observe, but by actively seeking information. However, children's information search strategies are typically less efficient than those of adults. In two studies, we isolate potential sources of developmental change in how children (7- and 10-year-olds) and adults search for information. To do so, we develop a hierarchical version of the 20-questions game, in which participants either ask questions (Study 1) or test individual objects (Study 2) to discover which category of objects within a nested structure (e.g., animals, birds, or owls) has a novel property. We also develop a computational model of the task, which allows us to evaluate performance in quantitative terms. As expected, we find developmental improvement in the efficiency of information search. In addition, we show that participants' performance exceeds random search, but falls short of optimal performance. We find mixed support for the idea that children's inefficiency stems from difficulty thinking beyond the level of individual objects or hypotheses. Instead, we reveal a previously undocumented source of developmental change: Children are significantly more likely than adults to continue their search for information beyond the point at which a single hypothesis remains, and thus to ask questions and select objects associated with zero information gain. This suggests that one crucial source of developmental change in information search efficiency lies in children's "stopping rules." (PsycINFO Database Record
Wilkenfeld, D. A., Plunkett, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2016). Depth and deference: When and why we attribute understanding. Philosophical studies , 173 (2), 373–393 . Springer.
Four experiments investigate the folk concept of ‘‘understanding,’’ in particular when and why it is deployed differently from the concept of knowledge. We argue for the positions that (1) people have higher demands with respect to explanatory depth when it comes to attributing understanding, and (2) that this is true, in part, because understanding attributions play a functional role in identifying experts who should be heeded with respect to the general field in question. These claims are supported by our findings that people differentially withhold attributions of understanding (rather than knowledge) when the object of attribution has minimal explanatory information. We also show that this tendency significantly correlates with people’s willingness to defer to others as potential experts. This work bears on a pressing issue in epistemology concerning the place and value of understanding. Our results also provide reason against positing a simple equation of knowledge(- why) and understanding(-why). We contend that, because deference plays a crucial role in many aspects of everyday reasoning, the fact that we use understanding attributions to demarcate experts reveals a potential mechanism for achieving our epistemic aims in many domains.
Lombrozo, T. (2016). Explanation. In J. Sytsma & W. Buckwalter (Ed.), Blackwell Companion to Experimental Philosophy (pp. 491-503) . Blackwell.

Explanation has been an important topic of study in philosophy of science, in epistemology, and in other areas of philosophy. In parallel, psychologists have been studying children’s and adults’ explanations, including their role in inference and in learning. This entry reviews recent work that begins to bridge the philosophy and psychology of explanation, with sections introducing recent empirical work on explanation by philosophers, formal and functional accounts of explanation, inference to the best explanation, the role of explanation in discovery, and the implications of empirical work on explanation for the “negative program” in experimental philosophy.

Shtulman, A., & Lombrozo, T. (2016). Bundles of contradiction: A coexistence view of conceptual change. In D. Barner & A. S. Baron (Ed.), Core knowledge and conceptual change (pp. 53–71) . Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Abstract
Natural phenomena, such as illness or adaptation, can be explained in many ways. Typically, this many-to-one mapping between explanations and the phenomena they explain is construed as a source of tension between scientific and religious explanations (e.g., creationism vs. evolution) or between different forms of scientific explanation (e.g., Lamarck’s vs. Darwin’s theory of evolution). However, recent research suggests that competing explanations exist not only across individuals within the same community, but also within individuals themselves, who maintain competing explanations. Here, we explore this phenomenon of “explanatory coexistence” and analyze its implications for conceptual change, or knowledge restructuring at the level of individual concepts. We argue that conceptual change is often better construed as a process of augmentation, in which early-developing concepts coexist with later-developing concepts because both types of concepts remain useful for predicting and explaining the natural world, albeit in different circumstances or for different purposes.
Ruggeri, A., & Lombrozo, T. (2015). Children adapt their questions to achieve efficient search. Cognition , 143, 203-216.
One way to learn about the world is by asking questions. We investigate how younger children (7- to 8-year-olds), older children (9- to 11-year-olds), and young adults (17- to 18-year-olds) ask questions to identify the cause of an event. We find a developmental shift in children's reliance on hypothesis-scanning questions (which test hypotheses directly) versus constraint-seeking questions (which reduce the space of hypotheses), but also that all age groups ask more constraint-seeking questions when hypothesis-scanning questions are least likely to pay off: When the solution is one among equally likely alternatives (Study 1) or when the problem is difficult (Studies 1 and 2). These findings are the first to demonstrate that even young children dynamically adapt their strategies for inquiry to increase the efficiency of information search.
Wilkenfeld, D. A., & Lombrozo, T. (2015). Inference to the best explanation (IBE) versus explaining for the best inference (EBI). Science & Education , 24 (9-10), 1059–1077 . Springer.
In pedagogical contexts and in everyday life, we often come to believe something because it would best explain the data. What is it about the explanatory endeavor that makes it essential to everyday learning and to scientific progress? There are at least two plausible answers. On one view, there is something special about having true explanations. This view is highly intuitive: it’s clear why true explanations might improve one’s epistemic position. However, there is another possibility—it could be that the process of seeking, generating, or evaluating explanations itself puts one in a better epistemic position, even when the outcome of the process is not a true explanation. In other words, it could be that accurate explanations are beneficial, or it could be that high-quality explaining is beneficial, where there is something about the activity of looking for an explanation that improves our epistemic standing. The main goal of this paper is to tease apart these two possibilities, both theoretically and empirically, which we align with ‘‘Inference to the Best Explanation’’ (IBE) and ‘‘Explaining for the Best Inference’’ (EBI), respectively. We also provide some initial support for EBI and identify promising directions for future research.
Legare, C. H., & Lombrozo, T. (2014). Selective effects of explanation on learning during early childhood. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology , 126, 198-212.
Two studies examined the specificity of effects of explanation on learning by prompting 3- to 6-year-old children to explain a mechanical toy and comparing what they learned about the toy's causal and non-causal properties with children who only observed the toy, both with and without accompanying verbalization. In Study 1, children were experimentally assigned to either explain or observe the mechanical toy. In Study 2, children were classified according to whether the content of their response to an undirected prompt involved explanation. Dependent measures included whether children understood the toy's functional-mechanical relationships, remembered perceptual features of the toy, effectively reconstructed the toy, and (for Study 2) generalized the function of the toy when constructing a new one. Results demonstrate that across age groups, explanation promotes causal learning and generalization but does not improve (and in younger children can even impair) memory for causally irrelevant perceptual details.
Lombrozo, T., & Gwynne, N. Z. (2014). Explanation and inference: mechanistic and functional explanations guide property generalization. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience , 8 700.
The ability to generalize from the known to the unknown is central to learning and inference. Two experiments explore the relationship between how a property is explained and how that property is generalized to novel species and artifacts. The experiments contrast the consequences of explaining a property mechanistically, by appeal to parts and processes, with the consequences of explaining the property functionally, by appeal to functions and goals. The findings suggest that properties that are explained functionally are more likely to be generalized on the basis of shared functions, with a weaker relationship between mechanistic explanations and generalization on the basis of shared parts and processes. The influence of explanation type on generalization holds even though all participants are provided with the same mechanistic and functional information, and whether an explanation type is freely generated (Experiment 1), experimentally provided (Experiment 2), or experimentally induced (Experiment 2). The experiments also demonstrate that explanations and generalizations of a particular type (mechanistic or functional) can be experimentally induced by providing sample explanations of that type, with a comparable effect when the sample explanations come from the same domain or from a different domains. These results suggest that explanations serve as a guide to generalization, and contribute to a growing body of work supporting the value of distinguishing mechanistic and functional explanations.
Walker, C. M., Lombrozo, T., Legare, C. H., & Gopnik, A. (2014). Explaining prompts children to privilege inductively rich properties. Cognition , 133 (2), 343-57.
Four experiments with preschool-aged children test the hypothesis that engaging in explanation promotes inductive reasoning on the basis of shared causal properties as opposed to salient (but superficial) perceptual properties. In Experiments 1a and 1b, 3- to 5-year-old children prompted to explain during a causal learning task were more likely to override a tendency to generalize according to perceptual similarity and instead extend an internal feature to an object that shared a causal property. Experiment 2 replicated this effect of explanation in a case of label extension (i.e., categorization). Experiment 3 demonstrated that explanation improves memory for clusters of causally relevant (non-perceptual) features, but impairs memory for superficial (perceptual) features, providing evidence that effects of explanation are selective in scope and apply to memory as well as inference. In sum, our data support the proposal that engaging in explanation influences children's reasoning by privileging inductively rich, causal properties.
Uttich, K., Tsai, G., & Lombrozo, T. (2014). Exploring meta-ethical commitments: Moral objectivity and moral progress. In H. Sarkissian & J. C. Wright (Ed.), Advances in experimental moral psychology (pp. 188–208) . London: Bloomsbury Publishing. PDF
Lombrozo, T., Knobe, J., & Nichols, S. (Ed.). (2014). Oxford studies in experimental philosophy (Vol. 1) . Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Harvey, A. G., Soehner, A., Lombrozo, T., Bélanger, L., Rifkin, J., & Morin, C. M. (2013). 'Folk theories' about the causes of insomnia. Cognitive Therapy and Research , 37 (5).
The present study investigates 'folk theories' about the causes of insomnia. Participants with insomnia ( = 69) completed a qualitative and quantitative assessment of their folk theories. The qualitative assessment was to speak aloud for 1 minute in response to: 'What do you think causes your insomnia?'. The quantitative assessment involved completing the 'Causal Attributions of My Insomnia Questionnaire' (CAM-I), developed for this study. The three most common folk theories for both the causes of one's own insomnia as well as insomnia in others were 'emotions', 'thinking patterns' and 'sleep-related emotions'. Interventions targeting these factors were also perceived as most likely to be viable treatments. Seventy-five percent of the folk theories of insomnia investigated with the CAM-I were rated as more likely to be alleviated by a psychological versus a biological treatment. The results are consistent with research highlighting that folk theories are generally coherent and inform a range of judgments. Future research should focus on congruence of 'folk theories' between treatment providers and patients, as well as the role of folk theories in treatment choice, engagement, compliance and outcome.
Williams, J. J., Lombrozo, T., & Rehder, B. (2013). The hazards of explanation: overgeneralization in the face of exceptions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General , 142 (4), 1006-14. 10.1037/a0030996Abstract
Seeking explanations is central to science, education, and everyday thinking, and prompting learners to explain is often beneficial. Nonetheless, in 2 category learning experiments across artifact and social domains, we demonstrate that the very properties of explanation that support learning can impair learning by fostering overgeneralizations. We find that explaining encourages learners to seek broad patterns, hindering learning when patterns involve exceptions. By revealing how effects of explanation depend on the structure of what is being learned, these experiments simultaneously demonstrate the hazards of explaining and provide evidence for why explaining is so often beneficial. For better or for worse, explaining recruits the remarkable human capacity to seek underlying patterns that go beyond individual observations.
Lombrozo, T. (2013). Review: Evolution challenges – Integrating research and practice in teaching and learning about evolution. Reports of the National Center for Science Education , 33 (5). PDF
Williams, J. J., & Lombrozo, T. (2013). Explanation and prior knowledge interact to guide learning. Cognitive Psychology , 66 (1), 55-84.
How do explaining and prior knowledge contribute to learning? Four experiments explored the relationship between explanation and prior knowledge in category learning. The experiments independently manipulated whether participants were prompted to explain the category membership of study observations and whether category labels were informative in allowing participants to relate prior knowledge to patterns underlying category membership. The experiments revealed a superadditive interaction between explanation and informative labels, with explainers who received informative labels most likely to discover (Experiments 1 and 2) and generalize (Experiments 3 and 4) a pattern consistent with prior knowledge. However, explainers were no more likely than controls to discover multiple patterns (Experiments 1 and 2), indicating that effects of explanation are relatively targeted. We suggest that explanation recruits prior knowledge to assess whether candidate patterns are likely to have broad scope (i.e., to generalize within and beyond study observations). This interpretation is supported by the finding that effects of explanation on prior knowledge were attenuated when learners believed prior knowledge was irrelevant to generalizing category membership (Experiment 4). This research provides evidence that explanation can serve as a mechanism for deploying prior knowledge to assess the scope of observed patterns.
Bonawitz, E. B., & Lombrozo, T. (2012). Occam's rattle: children's use of simplicity and probability to constrain inference. Developmental Psychology , 48 (4), 1156-64.
A growing literature suggests that generating and evaluating explanations is a key mechanism for learning and inference, but little is known about how children generate and select competing explanations. This study investigates whether young children prefer explanations that are simple, where simplicity is quantified as the number of causes invoked in an explanation, and how this preference is reconciled with probability information. Both preschool-aged children and adults were asked to explain an event that could be generated by 1 or 2 causes, where the probabilities of the causes varied across conditions. In 2 experiments, it was found that children preferred explanations involving 1 cause over 2 but were also sensitive to the probability of competing explanations. Adults, in contrast, responded on the basis of probability alone. These data suggest that children employ a principle of parsimony like Occam's razor as an inductive constraint and that this constraint is employed when more reliable bases for inference are unavailable.
Genone, J., & Lombrozo, T. (2012). Concept possession, experimental semantics, and hybrid theories of reference. Philosophical Psychology , 25 (5), 717–742.

Contemporary debates about the nature of semantic reference have tended to focus on two competing approaches: theories which emphasize the importance of descriptive information associated with a referring term, and those which emphasize causal facts about the conditions under which the use of the term originated and was passed on. Recent empirical work by Machery and colleagues suggests that both causal and descriptive information can play a role in judgments about the reference of proper names, with findings of cross-cultural variation in judgments that imply differences between individuals with respect to whether they favor causal or descriptive information in making reference judgments. We extend this theoretical and empirical line of inquiry to views of the reference of natural and nominal kind concepts, which face similar challenges to those concerning the reference of proper names. In two experiments, we find evidence that both descriptive and causal factors contribute to judgments of concept reference, with no reliable differences between natural and nominal kinds. Moreover, we find evidence that the same individuals’ judgments can rely on both descriptive and causal information, such that variation between individuals cannot be explained by appeal to a mixed population of “pure descriptive theorists” and “pure causal theorists.” These findings suggest that the contrast between descriptive and causal theories of reference may be inappropriate; intuitions may instead support a hybrid theory of reference that includes both causal and descriptive factors. We propose that future research should focus on the relationship between these factors, and describe several possible frameworks for pursuing these issues. Our findings have implications for theories of semantic reference, as well as for theories of conceptual structure.

Lombrozo, T., & Rehder, B. (2012). Functions in biological kind classification. Cognitive Psychology , 65 (4), 457-485.
Biological traits that serve functions, such as a zebra's coloration (for camouflage) or a kangaroo's tail (for balance), seem to have a special role in conceptual representations for biological kinds. In five experiments, we investigate whether and why functional features are privileged in biological kind classification. Experiment 1 experimentally manipulates whether a feature serves a function and finds that functional features are judged more diagnostic of category membership as well as more likely to have a deep evolutionary history, be frequent in the current population, and persist in future populations. Experiments 2-5 reveal that these inferences about history, frequency, and persistence account for nearly all the effect of function on classification. We conclude that functional features are privileged because their relationship with the kind is viewed as stable over time and thus as especially well suited for establishing category membership, with implications for theories of classification and folk biological understanding.
Lombrozo, T. (2012). Explanation and abductive inference. In K. J. Holyoak & R. G. Morrison (Ed.), Oxford handbook of thinking and reasoning (pp. 260–276).
Everyday cognition reveals a sophisticated capacity to seek, generate, and evaluate explanations for the social and physical worlds around us. Why are we so driven to explain, and what accounts for our systematic explanatory preferences? This chapter reviews evidence from cognitive psychology and cognitive development concerning the structure and function of explanations, with a focus on the role of explanations in learning and inference. The findings highlight the value of understanding explanation and abductive inference both as phenomena in their own right and for the insights they provide concerning foundational aspects of human cognition, such as representation, learning, and inference.
Lombrozo, T. (2011). The instrumental value of explanations. Philosophy Compass , 6 (8), 539–551.
Scientific and ‘intuitive’ or ‘folk’ theories are typically characterized as serving three critical functions: prediction, explanation, and control. While prediction and control have clear instrumental value, the value of explanation is less transparent. This paper reviews an emerging body of research from the cognitive sciences suggesting that the process of seeking, generating, and evaluating explanations in fact contributes to future prediction and control, albeit indirectly by facilitating the discovery and confirmation of instrumentally valuable theories. Theoretical and empirical considerations also suggest why explanations may nonetheless feel intrinsically valuable. The paper concludes by considering some implications of the psychology of explanation for a naturalized philosophy of explanation.
Lombrozo, T. (2011). The campaign for concepts. Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review/Revue canadienne de philosophie , 50 (1), 165–177.
In his book Doing Without Concepts, Edouard Machery argues that cognitive scientists should reject the concept of “concept” as a natural, psychological kind. I review and critique several of Machery’s arguments, focusing on his definition of “concept” and on claims against the possibility and utility of a unified account of concepts. In particular, I suggest ways in which prototype, exemplar, and theory-theory approaches to concepts might be integrated.
Knobe, J., Lombrozo, T., & Machery, E. (2010). Dimensions of experimental philosophy. Review of Philosophy and Psychology , 1 (3), 315–318. PDF
Knobe, J., Lombrozo, T., & Machery, E. (2010). Editorial: Psychology and experimental philosophy. Review of Philosophy and Psychology , 1 (2), 157–160. PDF
Lombrozo, T. (2010). Causal-explanatory pluralism: How intentions, functions, and mechanisms influence causal ascriptions. Cognitive Psychology , 61 (4), 303-32.
Both philosophers and psychologists have argued for the existence of distinct kinds of explanations, including teleological explanations that cite functions or goals, and mechanistic explanations that cite causal mechanisms. Theories of causation, in contrast, have generally been unitary, with dominant theories focusing either on counterfactual dependence or on physical connections. This paper argues that both approaches to causation are psychologically real, with different modes of explanation promoting judgments more or less consistent with each approach. Two sets of experiments isolate the contributions of counterfactual dependence and physical connections in causal ascriptions involving events with people, artifacts, or biological traits, and manipulate whether the events are construed teleologically or mechanistically. The findings suggest that when events are construed teleologically, causal ascriptions are sensitive to counterfactual dependence and relatively insensitive to the presence of physical connections, but when events are construed mechanistically, causal ascriptions are sensitive to both counterfactual dependence and physical connections. The conclusion introduces an account of causation, an "exportable dependence theory," that provides a way to understand the contributions of physical connections and teleology in terms of the functions of causal ascriptions.
Lombrozo, T., & Uttich, K. (2010). Putting normativity in its proper place [Peer commentary on the paper "Person as Scientist, Person as Moralist" by J. Knobe]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences , 33 (4), 344–345.
Knobe considers two explanations for the influence of moral considerations on “non-moral” cognitive systems: the “person as moralist” position, and the “person as [biased] scientist” position. We suggest that this dichotomy conflates questions at computational and algorithmic levels, and suggest that distinguishing the issues at these levels reveals a third, viable option, which we call the “rational scientist” position.
Lombrozo, T. (2010). From conceptual representations to explanatory relations [Peer commentary on the paper "Précis of Doing without Concepts" by E. Machery]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences , 33 (2-3), 218-219.
Machery emphasizes the centrality of explanation for theory-based approaches to concepts. I endorse Machery's emphasis on explanation and consider recent advances in psychology that point to the "heterogeneity" of explanation, with consequences for Machery's heterogeneity hypothesis about concepts.
Uttich, K., & Lombrozo, T. (2010). Norms inform mental state ascriptions: A rational explanation for the side-effect effect. Cognition , 116 (1), 87-100.
Theory of mind, the capacity to understand and ascribe mental states, has traditionally been conceptualized as analogous to a scientific theory. However, recent work in philosophy and psychology has documented a "side-effect effect" suggesting that moral evaluations influence mental state ascriptions, and in particular whether a behavior is described as having been performed 'intentionally.' This evidence challenges the idea that theory of mind is analogous to scientific psychology in serving the function of predicting and explaining, rather than evaluating, behavior. In three experiments, we demonstrate that moral evaluations do inform ascriptions of intentional action, but that this relationship arises because behavior that conforms to norms (moral or otherwise) is less informative about underlying mental states than is behavior that violates norms. This analysis preserves the traditional understanding of theory of mind as a tool for predicting and explaining behavior, but also suggests the importance of normative considerations in social cognition.
Williams, J. J., & Lombrozo, T. (2010). The role of explanation in discovery and generalization: evidence from category learning. Cognitive Science , 34 (5), 776-806.
Research in education and cognitive development suggests that explaining plays a key role in learning and generalization: When learners provide explanations-even to themselves-they learn more effectively and generalize more readily to novel situations. This paper proposes and tests a subsumptive constraints account of this effect. Motivated by philosophical theories of explanation, this account predicts that explaining guides learners to interpret what they are learning in terms of unifying patterns or regularities, which promotes the discovery of broad generalizations. Three experiments provide evidence for the subsumptive constraints account: prompting participants to explain while learning artificial categories promotes the induction of a broad generalization underlying category membership, relative to describing items (Exp. 1), thinking aloud (Exp. 2), or free study (Exp. 3). Although explaining facilitates discovery, Experiment 1 finds that description is more beneficial for learning item details. Experiment 2 additionally suggests that explaining anomalous observations may play a special role in belief revision. The findings provide insight into explanation's role in discovery and generalization.
Lombrozo, T. (2009). The role of moral commitments in moral judgment. Cognitive Science , 33 (2), 273-86.
Traditional approaches to moral psychology assumed that moral judgments resulted from the application of explicit commitments, such as those embodied in consequentialist or deontological philosophies. In contrast, recent work suggests that moral judgments often result from unconscious or emotional processes, with explicit commitments generated post hoc. This paper explores the intermediate position that moral commitments mediate moral judgments, but not through their explicit and consistent application in the course of judgment. An experiment with 336 participants finds that individuals vary in the extent to which their moral commitments are consequentialist or deontological, and that this variation is systematically but imperfectly related to the moral judgments elicited by trolley car problems. Consequentialist participants find action in trolley car scenarios more permissible than do deontologists, and only consequentialists moderate their judgments when scenarios that typically elicit different intuitions are presented side by side. The findings emphasize the need for a theory of moral reasoning that can accommodate both the associations and dissociations between moral commitments and moral judgments.
Lombrozo, T. (2009). Explanation and categorization: how "why?" informs "what?". Cognition , 110 (2), 248-53.
Recent theoretical and empirical work suggests that explanation and categorization are intimately related. This paper explores the hypothesis that explanations can help structure conceptual representations, and thereby influence the relative importance of features in categorization decisions. In particular, features may be differentially important depending on the role they play in explaining other features or aspects of category membership. Two experiments manipulate whether a feature is explained mechanistically, by appeal to proximate causes, or functionally, by appeal to a function or goal. Explanation type has a significant impact on the relative importance of features in subsequent categorization judgments, with functional explanations reversing previously documented effects of 'causal status'. The findings suggest that a feature's explanatory importance can impact categorization, and that explanatory relationships, in addition to causal relationships, are critical to understanding conceptual representation.
Lombrozo, T. (2009). Why Why Darwin matters matters [Review of the book Why Darwin matters: the case against intelligent design, by M. Shermer]. Evolution: Education & Outreach , 2 141-143. PDF
Lombrozo, T., Thanukos, A., & Weisberg, M. (2008). The importance of understanding the nature of science for accepting evolution. Evolution: Education and Outreach , 1 (3), 290.
Many students reject evolutionary theory, whether or not they adequately understand basic evolutionary concepts. We explore the hypothesis that accepting evolution is related to understanding the nature of science. In particular, students may be more likely to accept evolution if they understand that a scientific theory is provisional but reliable, that scientists employ diverse methods for testing scientific claims, and that relating data to theory can require inference and interpretation. In a study with university undergraduates, we find that accepting evolution is significantly correlated with understanding the nature of science, even when controlling for the effects of general interest in science and past science education. These results highlight the importance of understanding the nature of science for accepting evolution. We conclude with a discussion of key characteristics of science that challenge a simple portrayal of the scientific method and that we believe should be emphasized in classrooms.
Lombrozo, T. (2007). Simplicity and probability in causal explanation. Cognitive Psychology , 55 (3), 232-57.
What makes some explanations better than others? This paper explores the roles of simplicity and probability in evaluating competing causal explanations. Four experiments investigate the hypothesis that simpler explanations are judged both better and more likely to be true. In all experiments, simplicity is quantified as the number of causes invoked in an explanation, with fewer causes corresponding to a simpler explanation. Experiment 1 confirms that all else being equal, both simpler and more probable explanations are preferred. Experiments 2 and 3 examine how explanations are evaluated when simplicity and probability compete. The data suggest that simpler explanations are assigned a higher prior probability, with the consequence that disproportionate probabilistic evidence is required before a complex explanation will be favored over a simpler alternative. Moreover, committing to a simple but unlikely explanation can lead to systematic overestimation of the prevalence of the cause invoked in the simple explanation. Finally, Experiment 4 finds that the preference for simpler explanations can be overcome when probability information unambiguously supports a complex explanation over a simpler alternative. Collectively, these findings suggest that simplicity is used as a basis for evaluating explanations and for assigning prior probabilities when unambiguous probability information is absent. More broadly, evaluating explanations may operate as a mechanism for generating estimates of subjective probability.
Lombrozo, T., Kelemen, D., & Zaitchik, D. (2007). Inferring design: evidence of a preference for teleological explanations in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Psychological Science , 18 (11), 999-1006.
Unlike educated adults, young children demonstrate a "promiscuous" tendency to explain objects and phenomena by reference to functions, endorsing what are called teleological explanations. This tendency becomes more selective as children acquire increasingly coherent beliefs about causal mechanisms, but it is unknown whether a widespread preference for teleology is ever truly outgrown. The study reported here investigated this question by examining explanatory judgments in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD), whose dementia affects the rich causal beliefs adults typically consult in evaluating explanations. The results indicate that unlike healthy adults, AD patients systematically and promiscuously prefer teleological explanations, suggesting that an underlying tendency to construe the world in terms of functions persists throughout life. This finding has broad relevance not only to understanding conceptual impairments in AD, but also to theories of development, learning, and conceptual change. Moreover, this finding sheds light on the intuitive appeal of creationism.
Sloman, S., Lombrozo, T., & Malt, B. (2007). Ontological commitments and domain specific categorisation. In M. J. Roberts (Ed.), Integrating the Mind (pp. 105–129) . Hove, UK: Psychology Press. PDF
Lombrozo, T., & Carey, S. (2006). Functional explanation and the function of explanation. Cognition , 99 (2), 167-204.
Teleological explanations (TEs) account for the existence or properties of an entity in terms of a function: we have hearts because they pump blood, and telephones for communication. While many teleological explanations seem appropriate, others are clearly not warranted--for example, that rain exists for plants to grow. Five experiments explore the theoretical commitments that underlie teleological explanations. With the analysis of [Wright, L. (1976). Teleological Explanations. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press] from philosophy as a point of departure, we examine in Experiment 1 whether teleological explanations are interpreted causally, and confirm that TEs are only accepted when the function invoked in the explanation played a causal role in bringing about what is being explained. However, we also find that playing a causal role is not sufficient for all participants to accept TEs. Experiment 2 shows that this is not because participants fail to appreciate the causal structure of the scenarios used as stimuli. In Experiments 3-5 we show that the additional requirement for TE acceptance is that the process by which the function played a causal role must be general in the sense of conforming to a predictable pattern. These findings motivate a proposal, Explanation for Export, which suggests that a psychological function of explanation is to highlight information likely to subserve future prediction and intervention. We relate our proposal to normative accounts of explanation from philosophy of science, as well as to claims from psychology and artificial intelligence.
Lombrozo, T. (2006). The structure and function of explanations. Trends in Cognitive Sciences , 10 (10), 464-70.
Generating and evaluating explanations is spontaneous, ubiquitous and fundamental to our sense of understanding. Recent evidence suggests that in the course of an individual's reasoning, engaging in explanation can have profound effects on the probability assigned to causal claims, on how properties are generalized and on learning. These effects follow from two properties of the structure of explanations: explanations accommodate novel information in the context of prior beliefs, and do so in a way that fosters generalization. The study of explanation thus promises to shed light on core cognitive issues, such as learning, induction and conceptual representation. Moreover, the influence of explanation on learning and inference presents a challenge to theories that neglect the roles of prior knowledge and explanation-based reasoning.
Lombrozo, T., Shtulman, A., & Weisberg, M. (2006). The Intelligent Design controversy: lessons from psychology and education. Trends in Cognitive Sciences , 10 (2), 56-7.
The current debate over whether to teach Intelligent Design creationism in American public schools provides the rare opportunity to watch the interaction between scientific knowledge and intuitive beliefs play out in courts rather than cortex. Although it is tempting to think the controversy stems only from ignorance about evolution, a closer look reinforces what decades of research in cognitive and social psychology have already taught us: that the relationship between understanding a claim and believing a claim is far from simple. Research in education and psychology confirms that a majority of college students fail to understand evolutionary theory, but also finds no support for a relationship between understanding evolutionary theory and accepting it as true. We believe the intuitive appeal of Intelligent Design owes as much to misconceptions about science and morality as it does to misconceptions about evolution. To support this position we present a brief tour of misconceptions: evolutionary, scientific and moral.
Lombrozo, T., Judson, J., & MacLeod, D. I. A. (2005). Flexibility of spatial averaging in visual perception. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences , 272 (1564), 725-32. 10.1098/rspb.2004.3007Abstract
The classical receptive field (RF) concept-the idea that a visual neuron responds to fixed parts and properties of a stimulus-has been challenged by a series of recent physiological results. Here, we extend these findings to human vision, demonstrating that the extent of spatial averaging in contrast perception is also flexible, depending strongly on stimulus contrast and uniformity. At low contrast, spatial averaging is greatest (about 11 min of arc) within uniform regions such as edges, as expected if the relevant neurons have orientation-selective RFs. At high contrast, spatial averaging is minimal. These results can be understood if the visual system is balancing a trade-off between noise reduction, which favours large areas of averaging, and detail preservation, which favours minimal averaging. Two distinct populations of neurons with hard-wired RFs could account for our results, as could the more intriguing possibility of dynamic, contrast-dependent RFs.
Federmeier, K. D., Segal, J. B., Lombrozo, T., & Kutas, M. (2000). Brain responses to nouns, verbs and class-ambiguous words in context. Brain , 123 (12), 2552–2566.
Recent neuropsychological and imaging data have implicated different brain networks in the processing of different word classes, nouns being linked primarily to posterior, visual object-processing regions and verbs to frontal, motor-processing areas. However, as most of these studies have examined words in isolation, the consequences of such anatomically based representational differences, if any, for the processing of these items in sentences remains unclear. Additionally, in some languages many words (e.g. `drink’) are class-ambiguous, i.e. they can play either role depending on context, and it is not yet known how the brain stores and uses information associated with such lexical items in context. We examined these issues by recording event-related potentials (ERPs) in response to unambiguous nouns (e.g. `beer’), unambiguous verbs (e.g. `eat’), class-ambiguous words and pseudowords used as nouns or verbs within two types of minimally contrastive sentence contexts: noun-predicting (e.g. `John wanted THE [target] but …’) and verb-predicting (`John wanted TO [target] but …’). Our results indicate that the nature of neural processing for nouns and verbs is a function of both the type of stimulus and the role it is playing. Even when the context completely specifies their role, word class-ambiguous items differ from unambiguous ones over frontal regions by ~150 ms. Moreover, whereas pseudowords elicit larger N400s when used as verbs than when used as nouns, unambiguous nouns and ambiguous words used as nouns elicit more frontocentral negativity than unambiguous verbs and ambiguous words used as verbs, respectively. Additionally, unambiguous verbs elicit a left-lateralized, anterior positivity (~200 ms) not observed for any other stimulus type, though only when these items are used appropriately as verbs (i.e. in verb-predicting contexts). In summary, the pattern of neural activity observed in response to lexical items depends on their general probability of being a verb or a noun and on the particular role they are playing in any given sentence. This implicates more than a simple two-way distinction of the brain networks involved in their storage and processing. Experience, as well as context during on-line language processing, clearly shapes the neural representations of nouns and verbs, such that there is no single neural marker of word class. Our results further suggest that the presence and nature of the word class-based dissociations observed after brain damage are similarly likely to be a function of both the type of stimulus and the context in which it occurs, and thus must be assessed accordingly.