Journal Article

Lombrozo, T., & Rehder, B. (2012). Functions in biological kind classification. Cognitive Psychology , 65 (4), 457-485.
Biological traits that serve functions, such as a zebra's coloration (for camouflage) or a kangaroo's tail (for balance), seem to have a special role in conceptual representations for biological kinds. In five experiments, we investigate whether and why functional features are privileged in biological kind classification. Experiment 1 experimentally manipulates whether a feature serves a function and finds that functional features are judged more diagnostic of category membership as well as more likely to have a deep evolutionary history, be frequent in the current population, and persist in future populations. Experiments 2-5 reveal that these inferences about history, frequency, and persistence account for nearly all the effect of function on classification. We conclude that functional features are privileged because their relationship with the kind is viewed as stable over time and thus as especially well suited for establishing category membership, with implications for theories of classification and folk biological understanding.
Lombrozo, T. (2011). The instrumental value of explanations. Philosophy Compass , 6 (8), 539–551.
Scientific and ‘intuitive’ or ‘folk’ theories are typically characterized as serving three critical functions: prediction, explanation, and control. While prediction and control have clear instrumental value, the value of explanation is less transparent. This paper reviews an emerging body of research from the cognitive sciences suggesting that the process of seeking, generating, and evaluating explanations in fact contributes to future prediction and control, albeit indirectly by facilitating the discovery and confirmation of instrumentally valuable theories. Theoretical and empirical considerations also suggest why explanations may nonetheless feel intrinsically valuable. The paper concludes by considering some implications of the psychology of explanation for a naturalized philosophy of explanation.
Lombrozo, T. (2011). The campaign for concepts. Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review/Revue canadienne de philosophie , 50 (1), 165–177.
In his book Doing Without Concepts, Edouard Machery argues that cognitive scientists should reject the concept of “concept” as a natural, psychological kind. I review and critique several of Machery’s arguments, focusing on his definition of “concept” and on claims against the possibility and utility of a unified account of concepts. In particular, I suggest ways in which prototype, exemplar, and theory-theory approaches to concepts might be integrated.
Lombrozo, T. (2010). Causal-explanatory pluralism: How intentions, functions, and mechanisms influence causal ascriptions. Cognitive Psychology , 61 (4), 303-32.
Both philosophers and psychologists have argued for the existence of distinct kinds of explanations, including teleological explanations that cite functions or goals, and mechanistic explanations that cite causal mechanisms. Theories of causation, in contrast, have generally been unitary, with dominant theories focusing either on counterfactual dependence or on physical connections. This paper argues that both approaches to causation are psychologically real, with different modes of explanation promoting judgments more or less consistent with each approach. Two sets of experiments isolate the contributions of counterfactual dependence and physical connections in causal ascriptions involving events with people, artifacts, or biological traits, and manipulate whether the events are construed teleologically or mechanistically. The findings suggest that when events are construed teleologically, causal ascriptions are sensitive to counterfactual dependence and relatively insensitive to the presence of physical connections, but when events are construed mechanistically, causal ascriptions are sensitive to both counterfactual dependence and physical connections. The conclusion introduces an account of causation, an "exportable dependence theory," that provides a way to understand the contributions of physical connections and teleology in terms of the functions of causal ascriptions.
Lombrozo, T., & Uttich, K. (2010). Putting normativity in its proper place [Peer commentary on the paper "Person as Scientist, Person as Moralist" by J. Knobe]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences , 33 (4), 344–345.
Knobe considers two explanations for the influence of moral considerations on “non-moral” cognitive systems: the “person as moralist” position, and the “person as [biased] scientist” position. We suggest that this dichotomy conflates questions at computational and algorithmic levels, and suggest that distinguishing the issues at these levels reveals a third, viable option, which we call the “rational scientist” position.
Lombrozo, T. (2010). From conceptual representations to explanatory relations [Peer commentary on the paper "Précis of Doing without Concepts" by E. Machery]. Behavioral and Brain Sciences , 33 (2-3), 218-219.
Machery emphasizes the centrality of explanation for theory-based approaches to concepts. I endorse Machery's emphasis on explanation and consider recent advances in psychology that point to the "heterogeneity" of explanation, with consequences for Machery's heterogeneity hypothesis about concepts.
Uttich, K., & Lombrozo, T. (2010). Norms inform mental state ascriptions: A rational explanation for the side-effect effect. Cognition , 116 (1), 87-100.
Theory of mind, the capacity to understand and ascribe mental states, has traditionally been conceptualized as analogous to a scientific theory. However, recent work in philosophy and psychology has documented a "side-effect effect" suggesting that moral evaluations influence mental state ascriptions, and in particular whether a behavior is described as having been performed 'intentionally.' This evidence challenges the idea that theory of mind is analogous to scientific psychology in serving the function of predicting and explaining, rather than evaluating, behavior. In three experiments, we demonstrate that moral evaluations do inform ascriptions of intentional action, but that this relationship arises because behavior that conforms to norms (moral or otherwise) is less informative about underlying mental states than is behavior that violates norms. This analysis preserves the traditional understanding of theory of mind as a tool for predicting and explaining behavior, but also suggests the importance of normative considerations in social cognition.
Williams, J. J., & Lombrozo, T. (2010). The role of explanation in discovery and generalization: evidence from category learning. Cognitive Science , 34 (5), 776-806.
Research in education and cognitive development suggests that explaining plays a key role in learning and generalization: When learners provide explanations-even to themselves-they learn more effectively and generalize more readily to novel situations. This paper proposes and tests a subsumptive constraints account of this effect. Motivated by philosophical theories of explanation, this account predicts that explaining guides learners to interpret what they are learning in terms of unifying patterns or regularities, which promotes the discovery of broad generalizations. Three experiments provide evidence for the subsumptive constraints account: prompting participants to explain while learning artificial categories promotes the induction of a broad generalization underlying category membership, relative to describing items (Exp. 1), thinking aloud (Exp. 2), or free study (Exp. 3). Although explaining facilitates discovery, Experiment 1 finds that description is more beneficial for learning item details. Experiment 2 additionally suggests that explaining anomalous observations may play a special role in belief revision. The findings provide insight into explanation's role in discovery and generalization.
Lombrozo, T. (2009). The role of moral commitments in moral judgment. Cognitive Science , 33 (2), 273-86.
Traditional approaches to moral psychology assumed that moral judgments resulted from the application of explicit commitments, such as those embodied in consequentialist or deontological philosophies. In contrast, recent work suggests that moral judgments often result from unconscious or emotional processes, with explicit commitments generated post hoc. This paper explores the intermediate position that moral commitments mediate moral judgments, but not through their explicit and consistent application in the course of judgment. An experiment with 336 participants finds that individuals vary in the extent to which their moral commitments are consequentialist or deontological, and that this variation is systematically but imperfectly related to the moral judgments elicited by trolley car problems. Consequentialist participants find action in trolley car scenarios more permissible than do deontologists, and only consequentialists moderate their judgments when scenarios that typically elicit different intuitions are presented side by side. The findings emphasize the need for a theory of moral reasoning that can accommodate both the associations and dissociations between moral commitments and moral judgments.
Lombrozo, T. (2009). Explanation and categorization: how "why?" informs "what?". Cognition , 110 (2), 248-53.
Recent theoretical and empirical work suggests that explanation and categorization are intimately related. This paper explores the hypothesis that explanations can help structure conceptual representations, and thereby influence the relative importance of features in categorization decisions. In particular, features may be differentially important depending on the role they play in explaining other features or aspects of category membership. Two experiments manipulate whether a feature is explained mechanistically, by appeal to proximate causes, or functionally, by appeal to a function or goal. Explanation type has a significant impact on the relative importance of features in subsequent categorization judgments, with functional explanations reversing previously documented effects of 'causal status'. The findings suggest that a feature's explanatory importance can impact categorization, and that explanatory relationships, in addition to causal relationships, are critical to understanding conceptual representation.
Lombrozo, T., Thanukos, A., & Weisberg, M. (2008). The importance of understanding the nature of science for accepting evolution. Evolution: Education and Outreach , 1 (3), 290.
Many students reject evolutionary theory, whether or not they adequately understand basic evolutionary concepts. We explore the hypothesis that accepting evolution is related to understanding the nature of science. In particular, students may be more likely to accept evolution if they understand that a scientific theory is provisional but reliable, that scientists employ diverse methods for testing scientific claims, and that relating data to theory can require inference and interpretation. In a study with university undergraduates, we find that accepting evolution is significantly correlated with understanding the nature of science, even when controlling for the effects of general interest in science and past science education. These results highlight the importance of understanding the nature of science for accepting evolution. We conclude with a discussion of key characteristics of science that challenge a simple portrayal of the scientific method and that we believe should be emphasized in classrooms.