What Makes an Explanation Believable?: Mechanistic and Anthropomorphic Explanations of Natural Phenomena


Many biases in decision-making and reasoning are a result of ignoring logical rules and relevant information while focusing on irrelevant cues present within an argument. In the present study we examine explanatory schemata – a set of interrelated concepts - that are deemed relevant to participants. Participants were first trained in a syllogistic reasoning task and were then presented descriptions of natural phenomena and explanations. An instructional manipulation varied the source of the explanations (scientists or people) as well as the animacy of the natural phenomena (living or nonliving). Explanations used either mechanistic (e.g., force) or anthropomorphic (e.g., wants) terms. We found that participants were more accurate when assessing mechanistic explanations.

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