Temporal and statistical information in causal structure learning

Teresa McCormack, Caren Frosch, Fiona Patrick, David Lagnado

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Three experiments examined children’s and adults’ abilities to use statistical and temporal information to distinguish between common cause and causal chain structures. In Experiment 1, participants were provided with conditional probability information and/or temporal information and asked to infer the causal structure of a three-variable mechanical system that operated probabilistically. Participants of all ages preferentially relied on the temporal pattern of events in their inferences, even if this conflicted with statistical information. In Experiments 2 and 3, participants observed a series of interventions on the system, which in these experiments operated deterministically. In Experiment 2, participants found it easier to use temporal pattern information than statistical information provided as a result of interventions. In Experiment 3, in which no temporal pattern information was provided, children from 6-7 years, but not younger children, were able to use intervention information to make causal chain judgments, although they had difficulty when the structure was a common cause. The findings suggest that participants, and children in particular, may find it more difficult to use statistical information than temporal pattern information because of its demands on information processing resources. However, there may also be an inherent preference for temporal information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-416
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015


Dive into the research topics of 'Temporal and statistical information in causal structure learning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this