8Causal Learning

In this chapter, we shall present an area of research in cognitive psychology which is attracting increasing attention, but which is rarely touched upon in the early years of university study, with a few exceptions in the context of animal learning (in which case the term “associative learning” is preferable to “causal learning” or, worse, “causal induction”).

We shall discuss what is currently meant by causal learning, starting with a brief history of the domain and a presentation of the key concepts.

The first research presented here (section 8.3) concerns adult subjects and relates to formalization efforts; section 8.4 deals with research on children. There are three main reasons for this order:

  1. 1) Research on children in this area concerns one of the very building blocks of thought: the construction of binary relations.
  2. 2) In adult subjects, with the exception of work focusing on modeling1, most publications relate to experimental situations featuring complex causal relations or situations defined in an arbitrary manner. For this reason, we have chosen to focus on the question of modeling causal learning mechanisms in our discussion of research on adults. Given the purpose of our book, it is important to be aware of this work on causal induction, which may be of interest to cognitive psychology students. Lay readers may wish to skip over this section or come back to it at a later date.
  3. 3) Section 8.4, which concerns research on children, also raises methodological ...

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