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We report three experiments in which we tested asymptotic and dynamic predictions of the Rescorla-Wagner (R-W) model and the asymptotic predictions of Cheng's probabilistic contrast model (PCM) concerning judgments of causality when there are two possible causal candidates. We used a paradigm in which the presence of a causal candidate that is highly correlated with an effect influences judgments of a second, moderately correlated or uncorrelated cause. In Experiment 1, which involved a moderate outcome density, judgments of a moderately positive cause were attenuated when it was paired with either a perfect positive or perfect negative cause. This attenuation was robust over a large set of trials but was greater when the strong predictor was positive. In Experiment 2, in which there was a low overall density of outcomes, judgments of a moderately correlated positive cause were elevated when this cause was paired with a perfect negative causal candidate. This elevation was also quite robust over a large set of trials. In Experiment 3, estimates of the strength of a causal candidate that was uncorrelated with the outcome were reduced when it was paired with a perfect cause. The predictions of three theoretical models of causal judgments are considered. Both the R-W model and Cheng's PCM accounted for some but not all aspects of the data. Pearce's model of stimulus generalization accounts for a greater proportion of the data.

Original publication




Journal article


Mem Cognit

Publication Date





466 - 479


Adult, Causality, Concept Formation, Female, Humans, Judgment, Male, Models, Psychological, Probability Learning