Inferring interventional predictions from observational learning data


Previous research has shown that people are capable of deriving correct predictions for previously unseen actions from passive observations of causal systems (Waldmann & Hagmayer, 2005). However, these studies were limited, since learning data were presented as tabulated data only, which may have turned the task more into a reasoning rather than a learning task. In two experiments, we therefore presented learners with trial-by-trial observational learning input referring to a complex causal model consisting of four events. To test the robustness of the capacity to derive correct observational and interventional inferences, we pitted causal order against the temporal order of learning events. The results show that people are, in principle, capable of deriving correct predictions after purely observational trial-by-trial learning, even with relatively complex causal models. However, conflicting temporal information can impair performance, particularly when the inferences require taking alternative causal pathways into account.

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 1, 75–80