Journal Article

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.
Blanchard, T., Murray, D., & Lombrozo, T. (2021). Experiments on Causal Exclusion. . Mind and Language.Abstract
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..
 
Liquin, E. G., Metz, S. E., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Science demands explanation, religion tolerates mystery. Cognition , 204 (2020), 104398.Abstract
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.
Vasilyeva, N., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Structural thinking about social categories: Evidence from formal explanations, generics, and generalization. Cognition , 204 (2020), 104383.Abstract
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.
Aronowitz, S., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Learning through simulation. Philosophers' Imprint , 20 (1), 1-18.Abstract
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.
Plunkett, D., Buchak, L., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). When and why people think beliefs are “debunked” by scientific explanations of their origins. Mind and Language , 35 (1), 3-28.Abstract
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.
Aronowitz, S., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Experiential explanation. Topics in Cognitive Science , 12 (2020), 1321-1336.Abstract
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.
Liquin, E. G., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). Explanation-Seeking Curiosity in Childhood. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences , 2020 (35), 14-20.Abstract
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.
Liquin, E. G., & Lombrozo, T. (2020). A Functional Approach to Explanation-Seeking Curiosity. Cognitive Psychology , 119 (2020), 101276.Abstract
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.
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.

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