The Accuracy of Causal Learning over 24 Days

AbstractHumans often rely on past experiences stored in long-term memory to predict the outcome of an event. In traditional lab-based experiments (e.g., causal learning, probability learning, etc.), these observations are compressed into a successive series of learning trials. The rapid nature of this paradigm means that completing the task relies on working memory. In contrast, real-world events are typically spread out over longer periods of time, and therefore long-term memory must be used. We conducted a 24 day smartphone study to assess how well people can learn causal relationships in extended timeframes. Surprisingly, we found few differences in causal learning when subjects observed events in a traditional rapid series of 24 trials as opposed to one trial per day for 24 days. Specifically, subjects were able to detect causality for generative and preventive datasets and also exhibited illusory correlations in both the short-term and long-term designs. We discuss theoretical implications of this work.

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