Judging the Importance of Constant and Variable Candidate Causes: A Test of the Power PC Theory

  • Vallée-Tourangeau F
  • Murphy R
  • Drew S
 et al. 
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In 2 causal induction experiments with a total of 48 undergraduates, Ss rated the importance of pairs of candidate causes in the production of a target effect; one candidate was present on every trial (constant cause), whereas the other was present on only some trials (variable cause). The design of both experiments consisted of a factorial combination of 2 values of the variable cause's covariation with the effect and 3 levels of the base rate of the effect. Judgments of the constant cause were inversely proportional to the level of covariation of the variable cause but were proportional to the base rate of the effect. The judgments were consistent with the predictions derived from the R. A. Rescorla and A. R. Wagner (1972) model of associative learning and with the predictions of the causal power theory of the probabilistic contrast model (P. W. Cheng, 1997) or "power PC theory." However, judgments of the importance of the variable candidate cause were proportional to the base rate of the effect, a phenomenon that is in some cases anticipated by the power PC theory. An alternative associative model, J. M. Pearce's (1987) similarity-based generalization model, predicts the influence of the base rate of the effect on the estimates of both the constant and the variable cause. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

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