Causal Learning

How do we learn causal relations? Of course, we acquire causal knowledge through external sources (e.g., teachers, Wikipedia, books). But we also infer causal relations by observing the relationship between events. What limits do people have in such situations and what biases do people exhibit during causal learning?

In our lab, we have found that people are more affected by observations made early on during learning rather than observations made more recently (Dennis & Ahn, 2001). We also showed that the reason why people show such primacy effects is that they develop certain expectations about causal relations at the outset, and these expectations lead to biased interpretations of later observations (Luhmann & Ahn, 2011; Marsh & Ahn, 2009). We also investigate the assumptions that people make about events that occur without any apparent causes, and how these assumptions about unobserved causes affect causal learning (Luhmann & Ahn, 2007; Rottman & Ahn, 2009).


Dennis, M. J., & Ahn, W. (2001). Primacy in causal strength judgments. Memory & Cognition, 29, 152-164. PDF

Luhmann, C. C., & Ahn, W. (2007). BUCKLE: A model of unobserved cause learning. Psychological Review. 114(3), 657-677. PDF

Marsh, J. K. & Ahn, W. (2009). Spontaneous assimilation of continuous values and temporal information in causal induction. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35, 334-352.  PDF

Rottman, B. M. & Ahn, W. (2009). Causal Learning about Tolerance and Sensitization. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 16, 1043-1049. PDF

Luhmann, C. C., & Ahn, W. (2011). Expectations and Interpretations During Causal Learning, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 37, 568-587. PDF