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Abstract
Causal knowledge is not static; it is constantly modified based on new evidence. The present set of seven experiments explores 1 important case of causal belief revision that has been neglected in research so far: causal interpolations. A simple prototypic case of an interpolation is a situation in which we initially have knowledge about a causal relation or a positive covariation between 2 variables but later become interested in the mechanism linking these 2 variables. Our key finding is that the interpolation of mechanism variables tends to be misrepresented, which leads to the paradox of knowing more: The more people know about a mechanism, the weaker they tend to find the probabilistic relation between the 2 variables (i.e., weakening effect). Indeed, in all our experiments we found that, despite identical learning data about 2 variables, the probability linking the 2 variables was judged higher when follow-up research showed that the 2 variables were assumed to be directly causally linked (i.e., C→E) than when participants were instructed that the causal relation is in fact mediated by a variable representing a component of the mechanism (M; i.e., C→M→E). Our explanation of the weakening effect is that people often confuse discoveries of preexisting but unknown mechanisms with situations in which new variables are being added to a previously simpler causal model, thus violating causal stability assumptions in natural kind domains. The experiments test several implications of this hypothesis.
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DOI 10.1037/xge0001016
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