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ERIC Number: EJ1110224
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2016-Aug
Pages: 24
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: ISSN-0278-7393
Searching for the Best Cause: Roles of Mechanism Beliefs, Autocorrelation, and Exploitation
Rottman, Benjamin M.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, v42 n8 p1233-1256 Aug 2016
When testing which of multiple causes (e.g., medicines) works best, the testing sequence has important implications for the validity of the final judgment. Trying each cause for a period of time before switching to the other is important if the causes have tolerance, sensitization, delay, or carryover (TSDC) effects. In contrast, if the outcome variable is autocorrelated and gradually fluctuates over time rather than being random across time, it can be useful to quickly alternate between the 2 causes, otherwise the causes could be confounded with a secular trend in the outcome. Five experiments tested whether individuals modify their causal testing strategies based on beliefs about TSDC effects and autocorrelation in the outcome. Participants adaptively tested each cause for longer periods of time before switching when testing causal interventions for which TSDC effects were plausible relative to cases when TSDC effects were not plausible. When the autocorrelation in the baseline trend was manipulated, participants exhibited only a small (if any) tendency toward increasing the amount of alternation; however, they adapted to the autocorrelation by focusing on changes in outcomes rather than raw outcome scores, both when making choices about which cause to test as well as when making the final judgment of which cause worked best. Understanding how people test causal relations in diverse environments is an important first step for being able to predict when individuals will successfully choose effective causes in real-world settings.
American Psychological Association. Journals Department, 750 First Street NE, Washington, DC 20002. Tel: 800-374-2721; Tel: 202-336-5510; Fax: 202-336-5502; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF); National Institutes of Health (DHHS)
Authoring Institution: N/A
Grant or Contract Numbers: 1430439; 1F32HL108711