Scientific norms value skepticism; many religious traditions value faith. We test the hypothesis that these different attitudes towards inquiry and belief result in different inferences from epistemic behavior: Whereas the pursuit of evidence or explanations is taken as a signal of commitment to science, forgoing further evidence and explanation is taken as a signal of commitment to religion. Two studies (N = 401) support these predictions. We also find that deciding to pursue inquiry is judged more moral and trustworthy, with moderating effects of participant religiosity and scientism. These findings suggest that epistemic behavior can be a social signal, and shed light on the epistemic and social functions of scientific vs. religious belief.
Deciding to be Authentic: Intuition is Favored Over Deliberation for Self-Reflective Decisions. Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society , 43 (43), Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2021).
People think they ought to make some decisions on the basis of deliberative analysis, and others on the basis of intuitive, gut feelings. What accounts for this variation in people’s preferences for intuition versus deliberation? We propose that intuition might be prescribed for some decisions because people’s folk theory of decision-making accords a special role to authenticity, where authenticity is uniquely associated with intuitive choice. Two pre-registered experiments find evidence in favor of this claim. In Experiment 1 (N=631), we find that decisions made on the basis of intuition (vs. deliberation) are more likely to be judged authentic, especially in domains where authenticity is plausibly valued. In Experiment 2 (N=177), we find that people are more likely to prescribe intuition as a basis for choice when the value of authenticity is heightened experimentally. These effects hold beyond previously recognized influences, such as computational costs, presumed efficacy, objectivity, complexity, and expertise.
Reason-based constraint in theory of mind. Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society , 43 (43), Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2021).
In the face of strong evidence that a coin landed heads, can someone simply choose to believe it landed tails? Knowing that a large earthquake could result in personal tragedy, can someone simply choose to desire that it occur? We propose that in the face of strong reasons to adopt a given belief or desire, people are perceived to lack control: they cannot simply believe or desire otherwise. We test this “reason-based constraint” account of mental state change, and find that people reliably judge that evidence constrains belief formation, and utility constrains desire formation, in others. These results were not explained by a heuristic that simply treats irrational mental states as impossible to adopt intentionally. Rather, constraint results from the perceived influence of reasons on reasoning: people judge others as free to adopt irrational attitudes through actions that eliminate their awareness of strong reasons. These findings fill an important gap in our understanding of folk psychological reasoning, with implications for attributions of autonomy and moral responsibility.
Developmental Change in What Elicits Curiosity. Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society , 43 (43), Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2021).
Across the lifespan, humans direct their learning towards information they are curious to know. However, it is unclear what elicits curiosity, and whether and how this changes across development. Is curiosity triggered by surprise and uncertainty, as prior research suggests, or by expected learning, which is often confounded with these features? In the present research, we use a Bayesian reinforcement learning model to quantify and disentangle surprise, uncertainty, and expected learning. We use the resulting model-estimated features to predict curiosity ratings from 5- to 9-year-olds and adults in an augmented multi-armed bandit task. Like adults’ curiosity, children’s curiosity was best predicted by expected learning. However, after accounting for expected learning, children (but not adults) were also more curious when uncertainty was higher and surprise lower. This research points to developmental changes in what elicits curiosity and calls for a reexamination of research that confounds these elicitors.
“It Depends”: How Children Reason about Stable and Unstable Causes. Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society , 43 (43), Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2021).
Adults have been shown to favor stable causal relationships – those that hold robustly across background contexts –in their actions and causal/explanatory generalizations (Vasilyeva et al, 2018). Here we explore how this preference develops. We present results from one study with 141 4-7-year-olds investigating whether children pay attention to causal stability when they explain observations and design interventions in novel contexts. We report developmental shifts in reliance on causal stability in a range of inferential tasks, highlight the important role of perceived average causal strength in determining children’s causal preferences, and discuss the implications of our findings for theories of early causal learning. To our knowledge, this is the first study exploring the role of stability in children’s causal reasoning.
Morality justifies motivated reasoning. Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society , Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2020).
A great deal of work argues that people demand impartial, evidence-based reasoning from others. However, recent findings show that moral values occupy a cardinal position in people’s evaluation of others, raising the possibility that people sometimes prescribe morally-good but evidentially-poor beliefs. We report two studies investigating how people evaluate beliefs when these two ideals conflict and find that people regularly endorse motivated reasoning when it can be morally justified. Furthermore, we document two ways that moral considerations result in prescribed motivated reasoning. First, morality can provide an alternative justification for belief, leading people to prescribe evidentially unsupported beliefs to others. And, second, morality can affect how people evaluate the way evidence is weighed by lowering or raising the threshold of required evidence for morally good and bad beliefs, respectively. These results illuminate longstanding questions about the nature of motivated reasoning and the social regulation of belief.
Quantifying curiosity: A formal approach to dissociating causes of curiosity. Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society , Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2020).
Curiosity motivates exploration and is beneficial for learning, but curiosity is not always experienced when facing the unknown. In the present research, we address this selectivity: what causes curiosity to be experienced under some circumstances but not others? Using a Bayesian reinforcement learning model, we disentangle four possible influences on curiosity that have typically been confounded in previous research: surprise, local uncertainty/expected information gain, global uncertainty, and global expected information gain. In two experiments, we find that backward-looking influences (concerning beliefs based on prior experience) and forward-looking influences (concerning expectations about future learning) independently predict reported curiosity, and that forward-looking influences explain the most variance. These findings begin to disentangle the complex environmental features that drive curiosity.
When generic language does not promote psychological essentialism. Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society , Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2020).
Generic language (e.g., “Women are nurturing”; “Women do not like math”) is prominent in child-directed speech, and has been shown to promote essentialist beliefs about the relevant kind, supporting stereotyping and prejudice. Here we investigate a theoretically-motivated intervention to break the link between generics and essentialist assumptions. In a study with 223 3-8-year-old children who learned about novel social groups from generic language, we demonstrate that a structural construal of generics (attributing the category-property association to stable external constraints) mitigates essentialist assumptions about social categories. We discuss practical applications for reducing stereotype endorsement, and theoretical implications regarding the meaning of generic language and the development of social kind representations.
Explaining the existential: Functional roles of scientific and religious explanation. Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society , Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2020).
Questions about the origins of life and the universe seem to call out for explanation, with science and religion offering candidate answers. These answers clearly differ in content, but do they also differ in psychological function? In Study 1 (N=501) participants on Amazon Mechanical Turk rated scientific and religious answers to existential questions on dimensions related to epistemic functions (e.g., “This explanation is based on evidence”) as well as moral/social/emotional functions (e.g., “If everyone believed this, the world would be a more moral place”; “This explanation is comforting”). For non-religious participants, only scientific explanations were assigned high values along epistemic dimensions; For religious participants, only religious explanations were assigned high values along non-epistemic dimensions. In Study 2 (N=130), priming a non-epistemic need boosted religious participants’ evaluation of the quality of religious (vs. scientific) explanations. These findings shed light on the functions of scientific and religious cognition and raise new questions about explanatory co-existence and the origins of religious belief.
You should really think this through: Cross-domain variation in preferences for intuition and deliberation. Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society , Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2020).
Decisions are often better when pursued after deliberation and careful thought. So why do we so often eschew deliberation, and instead rely on more intuitive, gut responses? We suggest that in addition to well-recognized factors (such as the costs of deliberation), people hold normative commitments concerning how decisions ought to be made. In some cases (e.g., when choosing a romantic partner), relying on deliberation (over intuition) could be seen as inauthentic or send a problematic social signal. In Experiment 1 (N = 654), we show that people in fact hold such domain-sensitive processing commitments, that they are distinct from reported descriptive tendencies, and that they contribute to predicting reported choice. In Experiment 2 (N = 555), we show that choosing intuitively vs. deliberately supports different inferences concerning confidence and authenticity, with the domain variation in inferences in Experiment 2 closely tracking the domain variation in normative commitments observed in Experiment 1. In Experiment 3 (N = 1002), we rule out an alternative explanation. These findings inform theories of judgment and decision-making, as well as efforts towards improving decision-making through critical thinking.
Structural thinking about social categories: Evidence from formal explanations, generics, and generalization. Proceedings of the 41st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society . Montreal, QC: Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2019).
Most theories of kind representation suggest that people posit internal, essence-like factors believed to underlie kind membership and the observable properties of members. Across two studies (N = 234), we show that adults can construe properties of social kinds as products of both internal and structural (stable external) factors. 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 a particular pattern of generalization to individuals when the individuals’ category membership and structural position are preserved. Our findings thus challenge these phenomena as signatures of essentialist 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 property mutability. These findings have important implications for reasoning about social kinds.
Explanatory considerations guide pursuit. Proceedings of the 41st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society . Montreal, QC: Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2019).
Evidence is typically consistent with more than one hypothesis. How do we decide which hypothesis to pursue (e.g., to subject to further consideration and testing)? Research has shown that explanatory considerations play an important role in learning and inference: we tend to seek and favor hypotheses that offer good explanations for the evidence we invoke them to explain. Here we report three studies testing the proposal that explanatory considerations similarly inform decisions concerning pursuit. We find that ratings of explanatory goodness predict pursuit (though to a lesser extent than they predict belief), and that these effects hold after adjusting for subjective probability. These findings contribute to a growing body of work suggesting an important role for explanatory considerations in shaping inquiry.
Inquiry, theory-formation, and the phenomenology of explanation. Proceedings of the 41st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society . Montreal, QC: Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2019).
Explanations not only increase understanding; they are often deeply satisfying. In the present research, we explore how this phenomenological sense of “explanatory satisfaction” relates to the functional role of explanation within the process of inquiry. In two studies, we address the following questions: 1) Does explanatory satisfaction track the epistemic, learning-directed features of explanation? and 2) How does explanatory satisfaction relate to both antecedent and subsequent curiosity? In answering these questions, we uncover novel determinants of explanatory satisfaction and contribute to the broader literature on explanation and inquiry.
If it’s important, then I am curious: A value intervention to induce curiosity. Proceedings of the 41st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society . Montreal, QC: Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2019).
Curiosity is considered essential for learning and sustained engagement, yet stimulating curiosity in educational contexts remains a challenge. Can people’s curiosity about a topic be stimulated by evidence that the topic has potential value? In two experiments we show that increasing people’s perceptions about the usefulness of a scientific topic also influences their 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 topic if they perceive it to be directly valuable to them. Given the link between curiosity and learning, these results have important implications for science communication and education more broadly.
Social consequences of information search: Seeking evidence and explanation signals religious and scientific commitments. Proceedings of the 41st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society . Montreal, QC: Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2019).
Seeking ideal explanations in a non-ideal world. , Proceedings of the 40th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (1939-1944) . Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.Abstract(2018).
Research has found that when children or adults attempt to explain novel observations in the course of learning, they are more likely to discover patterns that support ideal explanations: explanations that are maximally simple and broad. However, not all learning contexts support such explanations. Can explaining facilitate discovery nonetheless? We present a study in which participants were tasked with discovering a rule governing the classification of items, where the items were consistent two non-ideal rules: one correctly classified 66% of cases, the other 83%. We find that when there is no ideal rule to be discovered (i.e., no 100% rule), participants prompted to explain are better than control participants at discovering the best available rule (i.e., the 83% rule). This supports the idea that seeking ideal explanations can be beneficial in a non-ideal world because the pursuit of an ideal explanation can facilitate the discovery of imperfect patterns along the way.