Mediators or Alternative Explanations: Transitivity in Human-Mediated Causal Chains


We investigate how learning that an established type-level causal relationship is implemented by human agency affects people’s conceptualization of this relationship. In particular, we ask under what conditions subjects continue to perceive the original root cause as appropriate explanation for the resulting effect, and under what conditions they perceive the mediating intentional action as alternative explanation instead. Using a new experimental paradigm, we demonstrate that mechanisms involving intentional action lead to intuitions of causal intransitivity, but only when these actions are norm-violating. Potential generalizations and implications for scientific theory construction are discussed.

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