Causal Inference Lab

Unraveling the Causal Mind

IDA project "Unraveling the causal mind: Why and how causation shapes human cognition"

Ivar Kolvoort, 2018-2022


This project uses an interdisciplinary approach to elucidate why and how humans perform causal reasoning. Humans have been shown to posit causal relationships, even in situations where this might not be the case (e.g. illusions of causality). On the other hand, various studies have shown that humans are very sensitive to the specificities of causal systems and hence that we are very capable causal reasoners.


To understand how we reason about causes, I will first take an interventionist approach to causal cognition. This is done mostly because having a better picture of why causal cognition takes place will likely constrain our examination of how causal cognition works. In order to probe how causal cognition works I will develop novel causal reasoning experiments. These will be set up in such a way that we can obtain information not just about the accuracy of people’s inferences, but also about how they got to that inference. Amongst other things we will be looking at reaction times and EEG signals. The goal is to use this information to develop cognitive models, such as diffusion decision models and Bayesian hierarchical models, which would ultimately help us understand the processes underlying this type of reasoning.