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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01881

The Preference for Joint Attributions over Contrast-factor Attributions in Causal Contrast Situations

  • 1School of Psychology, Shaanxi Normal University, China
  • 2Shaanxi Normal University, China

A current issue about causal attribution is whether people take simple contrast-factor attributions or complex joint attributions in contrast situations. For example, a stone does not dissolve in water, and a piece of salt dissolves in water. That the piece of salt dissolves in water is due to (A. The influence of the piece of salt; B. The influence of the water; C. The joint influence of the piece of salt and the water). We propose a mechanism-based sufficiency account for such questions. It argues that causal attributions are guided by mechanism-based explanatory sufficiency, and people prefer mechanism-based attributions with explanatory sufficiency. This account predicts the sufficient joint attribution (the C option), whereas the conventional covariation approach predicts the contrast-factor attribution (the A option). Two experiments investigated whether contrast situations affect causal attributions for compound causation with explicit mechanism information and simple causation without explicit mechanism information, respectively. Both experiments found that in both the presence and absence of contrast situations, the majority of participants preferred sufficient joint attributions to simple contrast-factor attributions regardless of whether explicit mechanism information was present, and contrast situations didn’t affect causal attributions. These findings favor the mechanism-based sufficiency account rather than the covariation approach and the complexity account. In contrast situations, the predominance of joint attributions implies that explanatory complexity affects causal attributions by the modulation of explanatory sufficiency, and people prefer mechanism-based joint attributions that provide sufficient explanations for effects. The present findings are beyond the existing approaches to causal attributions.

Keywords: causal attribution, Contrast situation, Causal mechanism, joint attribution, explanatory complexity, explanatory sufficiency

Received: 15 Feb 2019; Accepted: 31 Jul 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Wang and Zhu. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Moyun Wang, School of Psychology, Shaanxi Normal University, Xi’an, China,