NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ884831
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2010-May
Pages: 31
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 71
ISSN: ISSN-0096-3445
For Want of a Nail: How Absences Cause Events
Wolff, Phillip; Barbey, Aron K.; Hausknecht, Matthew
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, v139 n2 p191-221 May 2010
Causation by omission is instantiated when an effect occurs from an absence, as in "The absence of nicotine causes withdrawal" or "Not watering the plant caused it to wilt." The phenomenon has been viewed as an insurmountable problem for process theories of causation, which specify causation in terms of conserved quantities, like force, but not for theories that specify causation in terms of statistical or counterfactual dependencies. A new account of causation challenges these assumptions. According to the force theory, absences are causal when the removal of a force leads to an effect. Evidence in support of this account was found in 3 experiments in which people classified animations of complex causal chains involving force removal, as well as chains involving "virtual forces," that is, forces that were anticipated but never realized. In a 4th experiment, the force theory's ability to predict synonymy relationships between different types of causal expressions provided further evidence for this theory over dependency theories. The findings show not only how causation by omission can be grounded in the physical world but also why only certain absences, among the potentially infinite number of absences, are causal. (Contains 15 figures, 11 tables, and 7 footnotes.)
American Psychological Association. Journals Department, 750 First Street NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242. 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: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A