Journal Article

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)
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.