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.
Explaining the existential: scientific and religious explanations play different psychological roles. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General . OSF Preprints.Abstract(Forthcoming).
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 three studies (N = 1,215), one correlational, one experimental, and one capitalizing on a natural intervention (the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic), we find that scientific explanations tend to be attributed more epistemic virtues (such as evidential support and objectivity) and are more often generated to meet epistemic demands (Studies 1-2), whereas religious explanations tend to be attributed more non-epistemic virtues (such as offering emotional comfort and supporting moral behavior) and are more often generated to meet non-epistemic demands (Studies 1-3). Importantly, these effects are moderated by religiosity: religious believers attribute both epistemic and non-epistemic virtues to religious explanations, whereas those who are not religious attribute only epistemic virtues to scientific explanations. These findings inform theories of religious belief, the cognitive coexistence of supernatural and natural conceptions of life and death, and the relationship between epistemic and non-epistemic considerations.
Reconciling scientific and commonsense values to improve reasoning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.Abstract(Forthcoming).
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.
How to Help Young Children Ask Better Questions? Frontiers in Psychology , 11, 2908.Abstract(2021).
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.
Curiosity is Contagious: A Social Influence Intervention to Induce Curiosity. Cognitive Science.Abstract(Forthcoming).
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.
Transformations and transfer: Preschool children understand abstract relations and reason analogically in a causal task. Child Development , 91 (6), 1898-1915.Abstract(2020).
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.
Morality justifies motivated reasoning in the folk ethics of belief. Cognition , 209, 104513.Abstract(2021).
The Future of Women in Psychological Science. Perspectives on Psychological Science , 16 (3), 483-516.Abstract(2020).
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.
Experiments on Causal Exclusion. Mind and Language.Abstract(Forthcoming).
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..
Science demands explanation, religion tolerates mystery. Cognition , 204 (2020), 104398.Abstract(2020).
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.
Structural thinking about social categories: Evidence from formal explanations, generics, and generalization. Cognition , 204 (2020), 104383.Abstract(2020).
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.
Learning through simulation. Philosophers' Imprint , 20 (1), 1-18.Abstract(2020).
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.
When and why people think beliefs are “debunked” by scientific explanations of their origins. Mind and Language , 35 (1), 3-28.Abstract(2020).
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.
Experiential explanation. Topics in Cognitive Science , 12 (2020), 1321-1336.Abstract(2020).
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.
Explanation-Seeking Curiosity in Childhood. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences , 2020 (35), 14-20.Abstract(2020).
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.
A Functional Approach to Explanation-Seeking Curiosity. Cognitive Psychology , 119 (2020), 101276.Abstract(2020).
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.