Structure induction in diagnostic causal reasoning


Our research examines the normative and descriptive adequacy of alternative computational models of diagnostic reasoning from single effects to single causes. Many theories of diagnostic reasoning are based on the normative assumption that inferences from an effect to its cause should reflect solely the empirically observed conditional probability of cause given effect. We argue against this assumption, as it neglects alternative causal structures that may have generated the sample data. Our structure induction model of diagnostic reasoning takes into account the uncertainty regarding the underlying causal structure. A key prediction of the model is that diagnostic judgments should not only reflect the empirical probability of cause given effect but should also depend on the reasoner’s beliefs about the existence and strength of the link between cause and effect. We confirmed this prediction in 2 studies and showed that our theory better accounts for human judgments than alternative theories of diagnostic reasoning. Overall, our findings support the view that in diagnostic reasoning people go “beyond the information given” and use the available data to make inferences on the (unobserved) causal rather than on the (observed) data level.

Psychological Review, 3, 277–301