Journal Article

Ruggeri, A., Xu, F., & Lombrozo, T. (2019). Effects of explanation on children's question asking. Cognition , 191, 21-38.Abstract
The capacity to search for information effectively by asking informative questions is crucial for self-directed learning and develops throughout the preschool years and beyond. We tested the hypothesis that explaining observations in a given domain prepares children to ask more informative questions in that domain, and that it does so by promoting the identification of features that apply to multiple objects, thus supporting more effective questions. Across two experiments, 4- to 7-year-old children (N  = 168) were prompted to explain observed evidence or to complete a control task prior to a 20-questions game. We found that prior prompts to explain led to a decrease in the number of questions needed to complete the game, but only for older children (ages 6-7). Moreover, we found that effects of explanation manifested as a shift away from questions that targeted single objects. These findings shed light on the development of question asking in childhood and on the role of explanation in learning.
Edwards, B. J., Williams, J. J., Gentner, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2019). Explanation recruits comparison in a category-learning task. Cognition , 185, 21-38.Abstract
Generating explanations can be highly effective in promoting category learning; however, the underlying mechanisms are not fully understood. We propose that engaging in explanation can recruit comparison processes, and that this in turn contributes to the effectiveness of explanation in supporting category learning. Three experiments evaluated the interplay between explanation and various comparison strategies in learning artificial categories. In Experiment 1, as expected, prompting participants to explain items’ category membership led to (a) higher ratings of self-reported comparison processing and (b) increased likelihood of discovering a rule underlying category membership. Indeed, prompts to explain led to more self- reported comparison than did direct prompts to compare pairs of items. Experiment 2 showed that prompts to compare all members of a particular category (“group comparison”) were more effective in supporting rule learning than were pairwise comparison prompts. Experiment 3 found that group comparison (as assessed by self-report) partially mediated the relationship between explanation and category learning. These results suggest that one way in which explanation benefits category learning is by inviting comparisons in the service of identifying broad patterns.
Vasilyeva, N., Gopnik, A., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). The development of structural thinking about social categories. Developmental Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/dev0000555Abstract
Representations of social categories help us make sense of the social world, supporting predictions and explanations about groups and individuals. In an experiment with 156 participants, we explore whether children and adults are able to understand category-property associations (such as the association between “girls” and “pink”) in structural terms, locating an object of explanation within a larger structure and identifying structural constraints that act on elements of the structure. We show that children as young as 3-4 years old show signs of structural thinking, and that 5-6 year olds show additional differentiation between structural and nonstructural thinking, yet still fall short of adult performance. These findings introduce structural connections as a new type of non-accidental relationship between a property and a category, and present a viable alternative to internalist accounts of social categories, such as psychological essentialism.
Blanchard, T., Lombrozo, T., & Nichols, S. (2018). Bayesian occam's razor is a razor of the people. Cognitive Science , 42 (4), 1345-1359. https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12573Abstract
Occam's razor-the idea that all else being equal, we should pick the simpler hypothesis-plays a prominent role in ordinary and scientific inference. But why are simpler hypotheses better? One attractive hypothesis known as Bayesian Occam's razor (BOR) is that more complex hypotheses tend to be more flexible-they can accommodate a wider range of possible data-and that flexibility is automatically penalized by Bayesian inference. In two experiments, we provide evidence that people's intuitive probabilistic and explanatory judgments follow the prescriptions of BOR. In particular, people's judgments are consistent with the two most distinctive characteristics of BOR: They penalize hypotheses as a function not only of their numbers of free parameters but also as a function of the size of the parameter space, and they penalize those hypotheses even when their parameters can be "tuned" to fit the data better than comparatively simpler hypotheses.
Blanchard, T., Vasilyeva, N., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Stability, breadth and guidance. Philosophical Studies , 175 (9), 2263–2283. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-017-0958-6Abstract

Much recent work on explanation in the interventionist tradition emphasizes the explanatory value of stable causal generalizations—i.e., causal generalizations that remain true in a wide range of background circumstances. We argue that two separate explanatory virtues are lumped together under the heading of `stability’. We call these two virtues breadth and guidancerespectively. In our view, these two virtues are importantly distinct, but this fact is neglected or at least under-appreciated in the literature on stability. We argue that an adequate theory of explanatory goodness should recognize breadth and guidance as distinct virtues, as breadth and guidance track different ideals of explanation, satisfy different cognitive and pragmatic ends, and play different theoretical roles in (for example) helping us understand the explanatory value of mechanisms. Thus keeping track of the distinction between these two forms of stability yields a more accurate and perspicuous picture of the role that stability considerations play in explanation.

Giffin, C., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). An actor's knowledge and intent are more important in evaluating moral transgressions than conventional transgressions. Cognitive Science , 42 Suppl 1, 105-133. https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12504Abstract
An actor's mental states-whether she acted knowingly and with bad intentions-typically play an important role in evaluating the extent to which an action is wrong and in determining appropriate levels of punishment. In four experiments, we find that this role for knowledge and intent is significantly weaker when evaluating transgressions of conventional rules as opposed to moral rules. We also find that this attenuated role for knowledge and intent is partly due to the fact that conventional rules are judged to be more arbitrary than moral rules; whereas moral transgressions are associated with actions that are intrinsically wrong (e.g., hitting another person), conventional transgressions are associated with actions that are only contingently wrong (e.g., wearing pajamas to school, which is only wrong if it violates a dress code that could have been otherwise). Finally, we find that it is the perpetrator's belief about the arbitrary or non-arbitrary basis of the rule-not the reality-that drives this differential effect of knowledge and intent across types of transgressions.
Gottlieb, S., Keltner, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Awe as a scientific emotion. Cognitive Science , 42 (6), 2081-2094. https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12648Abstract

Awe has traditionally been considered a religious or spiritual emotion, yet scientists often report that awe motivates them to answer questions about the natural world, and to do so in naturalistic terms. Indeed, awe may be closely related to scientific discovery and theoretical advance. Awe is typically triggered by something vast (either literally or metaphorically) and initiates processes of accommodation, in which existing mental schemas are revised to make sense of the awe‐inspiring stimuli. This process of accommodation is essential for the kind of belief revision that characterizes scientific reasoning and theory change. Across six studies, we find that the tendency to experience awe is positively associated with scientific thinking, and that this association is not shared by other positive emotions. Specifically, we show that the disposition to experience awe predicts a more accurate understanding of how science works, rejection of creationism, and rejection of unwarranted teleological explanations more broadly.

 
Gottlieb, S., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Can science explain the human mind? Intuitive judgments about the limits of science. Psychological Science , 29 (1), 121-130. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797617722609Abstract
Can science explain romantic love, morality, and religious belief? We documented intuitive beliefs about the limits of science in explaining the human mind. We considered both epistemic evaluations (concerning whether science could possibly fully explain a given psychological phenomenon) and nonepistemic judgments (concerning whether scientific explanations for a given phenomenon would generate discomfort), and we identified factors that characterize phenomena judged to fall beyond the scope of science. Across six studies, we found that participants were more likely to judge scientific explanations for psychological phenomena to be impossible and uncomfortable when, among other factors, they support first-person, introspective access (e.g., feeling empathetic as opposed to reaching for objects), contribute to making humans exceptional (e.g., appreciating music as opposed to forgetfulness), and involve conscious will (e.g., acting immorally as opposed to having headaches). These judgments about the scope of science have implications for science education, policy, and the public reception of psychological science.
Liquin, E. G., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Structure-function fit underlies the evaluation of teleological explanations. Cognitive Psychology , 107, 22-43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogpsych.2018.09.001Abstract
Teleological explanations, which appeal to a function or purpose (e.g., “kangaroos have long tails for balance”), seem to play a special role within the biological domain. We propose that such explanations are compelling because they are evaluated on the basis of a salient cue: structure-function fit, or the correspondence between a biological feature’s form (e.g., tail length) and its function (e.g., balance). Across five studies with 843 participants in total, we find support for three predictions that follow from this proposal. First, we find that function information decreases reliance on mechanistic considerations when evaluating explanations (Experiments 1- 3), indicating the presence of a salient, function-based cue. Second, we demonstrate that structure-function fit is the best candidate for this cue (Experiments 3-4). Third, we show that scientifically-unwarranted teleological explanations are more likely to be accepted under speeded and unspeeded conditions when they are high in structure-function fit (Experiment 5). Experiment 5 also finds that structure-function fit extends beyond biology to teleological explanations in other domains. Jointly, these studies provide a new account of how teleological explanations are evaluated and why they are often (but not universally) compelling.
Lombrozo, T., Bonawitz, E. B., & Scalise, N. R. (2018). Young children’s learning and generalization of teleological and mechanistic explanations. Journal of Cognition and Development , 19 (2), 220-232. https://doi.org/10.1080/15248372.2018.1427099Abstract

Young children often endorse explanations of the natural world that appeal to functions or purpose—for example, that rocks are pointy so animals can scratch on them. By contrast, most Western-educated adults reject such explanations. What accounts for this change? We investigated 4- to 5-year-old children’s ability to generalize the form of an explanation from examples by presenting them with novel teleological explanations, novel mechanistic explanations, or no explanations for 5 nonliving natural objects. We then asked children to explain novel instances of the same objects and novel kinds of objects. We found that children were able to learn and generalize explanations of both types, suggesting an ability to draw generalizations over the form of an explanation. We also found that teleological and mechanistic explanations were learned and generalized equally well, suggesting that if a domain-general teleological bias exists, it does not manifest as a bias in learning or generalization.

Vasilyeva, N., Blanchard, T., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Stable causal relationships are better causal relationships. Cognitive Science , 42 (4), 1265-1296. https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12605Abstract
We report three experiments investigating whether people's judgments about causal relationships are sensitive to the robustness or stability of such relationships across a range of background circumstances. In Experiment 1, we demonstrate that people are more willing to endorse causal and explanatory claims based on stable (as opposed to unstable) relationships, even when the overall causal strength of the relationship is held constant. In Experiment 2, we show that this effect is not driven by a causal generalization's actual scope of application. In Experiment 3, we offer evidence that stable causal relationships may be seen as better guides to action. Collectively, these experiments document a previously underappreciated factor that shapes people's causal reasoning: the stability of the causal relationship.
Wilkenfeld, D. A., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Explanation classification depends on understanding: extending the epistemic side-effect effect. Synthese. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-018-1835-3Abstract

Our goal in this paper is to experimentally investigate whether folk conceptions of explanation are psychologistic. In particular, are people more likely to classify speech acts as explanations when they cause understanding in their recipient? The empirical evidence that we present suggests this is so. Using the side-effect effect as a marker of mental state ascriptions, we argue that lay judgments of explanatory status are mediated by judgments of a speaker’s and/or audience’s mental states. First, we show that attributions of both understanding and explanation exhibit a side-effect effect. Next, we show that when the speaker’s and audience’s level of understanding is stipulated, the explanation side-effect effect goes away entirely. These results not only extend the side-effect effect to attributions of understanding, they also suggest that attributions of explanation exhibit a side-effect effect because they depend upon attributions of understanding, supporting the idea that folk conceptions of explanation are psychologistic.

Wilkenfeld, D. A., Plunkett, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2018). Folk attributions of understanding: is there a role for epistemic luck? Episteme , 15 (1), 24-49 . Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/epi.2016.38Abstract

As a strategy for exploring the relationship between understanding and knowledge, we consider whether epistemic luck – which is typically thought to undermine knowledge – undermines understanding. Questions about the etiology of understanding have also been at the heart of recent theoretical debates within epistemology. Kvanvig (2003) put forward the argument that there could be lucky understanding and produced an example that he deemed persuasive. Grimm (2006) responded with a case that, he argued, demonstrated that there could not be lucky understanding. In this paper, we empirically examine how participants' patterns of understanding attributions line up with the predictions of Kvanvig and Grimm. We argue that the data challenge Kvanvig's position. People do not differentiate between knowing-why and understanding-why on the basis of proper etiology: attributions of knowledge and understanding involve comparable (and minimal) roles for epistemic luck. We thus posit that folk knowledge and understanding are etiologically symmetrical.

Giffin, C., Wilkenfeld, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2017). The explanatory effect of a label: Explanations with named categories are more satisfying. Cognition , 168, 357-369. 10.1016/j.cognition.2017.07.011Abstract
Can opium's tendency to induce sleep be explained by appeal to a "dormitive virtue"? If the label merely references the tendency being explained, the explanation seems vacuous. Yet the presence of a label could signal genuinely explanatory content concerning the (causal) basis for the property being explained. In Experiments 1 and 2, we find that explanations for a person's behavior that appeal to a named tendency or condition are indeed judged to be more satisfying than equivalent explanations that differ only in omitting the name. In Experiment 3, we find support for one proposal concerning what it is about a name that drives a boost in explanatory satisfaction: named categories lead people to draw an inference to the existence of a cause underlying the category, a cause that is responsible for the behavior being explained. Our findings have implications for theories of explanation and point to the central role of causation in explaining behavior.
Murray, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2017). Effects of manipulation on attributions of causation, free will, and moral responsibility. Cognitive Science , 41 (2), 447-481. https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12338Abstract
If someone brings about an outcome without intending to, is she causally and morally responsible for it? What if she acts intentionally, but as the result of manipulation by another agent? Previous research has shown that an agent's mental states can affect attributions of causal and moral responsibility to that agent, but little is known about what effect one agent's mental states can have on attributions to another agent. In Experiment 1, we replicate findings that manipulation lowers attributions of responsibility to manipulated agents. Experiments 2-7 isolate which features of manipulation drive this effect, a crucial issue for both philosophical debates about free will and attributions of responsibility in situations involving social influence more generally. Our results suggest that "bypassing" a manipulated agent's mental states generates the greatest reduction in responsibility, and we explain our results in terms of the effects that one agent's mental states can have on the counterfactual relations between another agent and an outcome.

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