Ockham's razor cuts to the root: Simplicity in causal explanation

Citation:

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.
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2017 Dec

1939-2222

Abstract:

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

https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000318

DOI:

10.1037/xge0000318

Alternate Journal:

J Exp Psychol Gen