Knowledge of mechanisms is critical for causal reasoning. We contrasted two possible organizations of causal knowledge—an interconnected causal network, where events are causally connected without any boundaries delineating discrete mechanisms; or a set of disparate mechanisms—causal islands—such that events in different mechanisms are not thought to be related even when they belong to the same causal chain. To distinguish these possibilities, we tested whether people make transitive judgments about causal chains by inferring, given A causes B and B causes C, (...) that A causes C. Specifically, causal chains schematized as one chunk or mechanism in semantic memory led to transitive causal judgments. On the other hand, chains schematized as multiple chunks led to intransitive judgments despite strong intermediate links. Normative accounts of causal intransitivity could not explain these intransitive judgments. (shrink)
Conviction Narrative Theory (CNT) is a theory of choice underradical uncertainty– situations where outcomes cannot be enumerated and probabilities cannot be assigned. Whereas most theories of choice assume that people rely on (potentially biased) probabilistic judgments, such theories cannot account for adaptive decision-making when probabilities cannot be assigned. CNT proposes that people usenarratives– structured representations of causal, temporal, analogical, and valence relationships – rather than probabilities, as the currency of thought that unifies our sense-making and decision-making faculties. According to CNT, (...) narratives arise from the interplay between individual cognition and the social environment, with reasoners adopting a narrative that feels “right” to explain the available data; using that narrative to imagine plausible futures; and affectively evaluating those imagined futures to make a choice. Evidence from many areas of the cognitive, behavioral, and social sciences supports this basic model, including lab experiments, interview studies, and econometric analyses. We identify 12 propositions to explain how the mental representations (narratives) interact with four inter-related processes (explanation, simulation, affective evaluation, and communication), examining the theoretical and empirical basis for each. We conclude by discussing how CNT can provide a common vocabulary for researchers studying everyday choices across areas of the decision sciences. (shrink)
Whereas most commentators agree about the centrality of narratives in decision-making, the commentaries revealed little consensus about the nature of radical uncertainty. Here we consider thirteen objections to our views, including our characterization of the uncertain decision environment and associated cognitive, affective, and social processes. We conclude that under radical uncertainty, narratives rather than probabilities are the currency of thought.
Chater & Loewenstein have done a service to the field by raising the fundamental issue of how the political process distorts well-intentioned efforts at behavioral public policy. We connect this argument to broader research on government failure, particularly public choice theory in economics. We further suggest ways that behavioral research can help identify and mitigate such failures.