Conference Proceedings

Lewry, C., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Ethical Explanations. Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
“Slavery ended in the United States because slavery is morally wrong.” This explanation does not seem to fit the typical criteria for explaining an event, since it appeals to ethics rather than causal factors as the reason for this social change. But do people perceive these ethical claims as explanatory, and if so, why? In Study 1, we find that people accept ethical explanations for social change and that this is predicted by their meta-ethical beliefs in moral progress and moral objectivism, suggesting that they treat morality somewhat akin to a causal force. In Study 2, we find that people recognize this relationship between ethical explanations and meta-ethical commitments, using the former to make inferences about individuals’ beliefs in moral progress and objectivism. Together these studies demonstrate that our moral commitments shape our judgments of explanations and that explanations shape our moral inferences about others.
Kinney, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Evaluations of Causal Claims Reflect a Trade-Off Between Informativeness and Compression . Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
The same causal system can be accurately described in many ways. What governs the evaluation of these choices? We pro- pose a novel, formal account of causal evaluation according to which evaluations of causal claims reflect the joint demands of maximal informativeness and maximal compression. Across two experiments, we show that evaluations of more and less compressed causal claims are sensitive to the amount of information lost by choosing the more compressed causal claim over a less compressed one, regardless of whether the com- pression is realized by coarsening a single variable or by eliding a background condition. This offers a unified account of two dimensions along which causal claims are evaluated (proportionality and stability), and contributes to a more general picture of human cognition according to which the capacity to create compressed (causal) representations plays a central role.
Foster-Hanson, E., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). What are Men and Mothers for? The Causes and Consequences of Functional Reasoning about Social Categories. Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
Do people attribute functions to gendered social categories? (For instance, is there something men or mothers are for?) And if so, do such attributions of function have consequences for normative judgments about what members of these social categories ought to do? In the current study, participants (N = 366) rated their agreement with 15 statements about the “true functions” of different social categories, in triads of matched masculine, feminine, and superordinate categories (e.g., fathers, mothers, and parents). Participants endorsed functional claims more for some social categories (e.g., parents) than others (e.g., kids), and their background beliefs about gender predicted variation in functional reasoning. However, across categories, participants judged that fulfilling true functions was ‘natural’ for members of the category, and they judged that category members ought to fulfill their true functions.
Oktar, K., & Lombrozo, T. (2022). Mechanisms of Belief Persistence in the Face of Societal Disagreement. Proceedings of the 44th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
People have a remarkable ability to remain steadfast in their beliefs in the face of large-scale disagreement. This has important consequences (e.g., societal polarization), yet its psychological underpinnings are poorly understood. In this paper, we answer foundational questions regarding belief persistence, from its prevalence to variability. Across two Experiments (N = 356, N = 354), we find that participants are aware of societal disagreement about controversial issues, yet overwhelmingly (~85%) do not question their views if asked to reflect on this disagreement. Both studies provide evidence that explanations for persistence vary across domains, with epistemic and meta-epistemic explanations among the most prevalent.
Foster-Hanson, E., & Lombrozo, T. (2021). The function of function: People use teleological information to predict prevalence. Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
Folk-biological concepts are sensitive to both statistical information about feature prevalence (Hampton, 1995; Kim & Murphy, 2011; Rosch & Mervis, 1975) and teleological beliefs about function (Atran, 1995; Keil, 1994; Kelemen, Rottman, & Seston, 2013; Lombrozo & Rehder, 2012), but it is unknown how these two types of information interact to shape concepts. In three studies (N = 438) using novel animal kinds, we found that information about prevalence and teleology inform each other: People assume that common features are functional, and they assume that functional features are common. However, people use teleological information to predict the future distribution of features across the category, despite conflicting information about current prevalence. Thus, both information about prevalence and teleological beliefs serve important conceptual functions: Prevalence information encodes the current state of the category, while teleological functions provides a means of predicting future category change.
Lewry, C., Kelemen, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2021). From teleology to morality: Why belief in human purpose prompts moral condemnation of individuals who fail to fulfill it . Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society . PsyArXiv.Abstract
People often endorse explanations that appeal to purpose, even when these ‘teleological’ explanations are scientifically unwarranted (e.g., “water exists so that life can survive on Earth”). In the present research, we explore teleological endorsement in a novel domain—human purpose—and its relationship to moral judgments. Across four studies, we address three questions: (1) Do people believe the human species exists for a purpose? (2) Do these beliefs drive moral condemnation of individuals who fail to fulfill this purpose? And if so, (3) what explains the link between teleological beliefs and moral condemnation? Study 1 (N=188) found that many adults endorsed anthropic teleology (e.g., that humans exist in order to procreate), and that these beliefs correlated with moral condemnation of purpose violations (e.g., judging those who do not procreate immoral). Study 2 (N=199) found evidence of a bi-directional causal relationship: teleological claims about a species resulted in moral condemnation of purpose violations, and stipulating that an action is immoral increased judgments that the species exists for that purpose. Study 3 (N=94) replicated a causal effect of species-level purpose on moral condemnation with novel actions and more implicit character judgments. Study 4 (N=52) found that when a species is believed to exist to perform some action, participants infer that the action is good for the species, and that this belief in turn supports moral condemnation of individuals who choose not to perform the action. Together, these findings shed light on how our descriptive understanding can shape our prescriptive judgments.
Oktar, K., & Lombrozo, T. (2021). Deciding to be Authentic: Intuition is Favored Over Deliberation for Self-Reflective Decisions . Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
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.
Cusimano, C., Zorrilla, N. C., Danks, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2021). Reason-based constraint in theory of mind . Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
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.
Liquin, E. G., Callaway, F., & Lombrozo, T. (2021). Developmental Change in What Elicits Curiosity . Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
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.
Vasilyeva, N., Murphy, M., Bohra, O., Chen, J., Cuevas, S. X., Katteri, S., Lombrozo, T., et al. (2021). “It Depends”: How Children Reason about Stable and Unstable Causes . Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
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.
Cusimano, C., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Morality justifies motivated reasoning. . Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
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.
Liquin, E. G., Callaway, F., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Quantifying curiosity: A formal approach to dissociating causes of curiosity. . Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
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.
Vasilyeva, N., Gopnik, A., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). When generic language does not promote psychological essentialism. . Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
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.
Davoodi, T., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Explaining the existential: Functional roles of scientific and religious explanation. . Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.Abstract
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.
Oktar, K., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). 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.Abstract
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.