Causal mechanisms

Samuel G. B. Johnson, Woo-kyoung Ahn

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This chapter reviews empirical and theoretical results concerning knowledge of causal mechanisms— beliefs about how and why events are causally linked. First, it reviews the effects of mechanism knowledge, showing that mechanism knowledge can trump other cues to causality (including covariation evidence and temporal cues) and structural constraints (the Markov condition), and that mechanisms play a key role in various forms of inductive inference. Second, it examines several theories of how mechanisms are mentally represented— as associations, forces or powers, icons, abstract placeholders, networks, or schemas— and the empirical evidence bearing on each theory. Finally, it describes ways that people acquire mechanism knowledge, discussing the contributions from statistical induction, testimony, reasoning, and perception. For each of these topics, it highlights key open questions for future research.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford handbook of causal reasoning
EditorsMichael R. Waldmann
Place of PublicationOxford, UK
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199399550
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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