Inferred Evidence in Latent Scope Explanations

Samuel JohnsonYale University, New Haven, CT, United States
Greeshma Rajeev-KumarYale University, New Haven, CT, United States
Frank KeilYale University, New Haven, CT, United States

Abstract

Explanations frequently lead to predictions that we do not have the time or resources to fully assess or test, yet we must often decide between potential explanations with incomplete evidence. Previous research has documented a latent scope bias, wherein explanations consistent with fewer predictions of unknown truth are preferred to those consistent with more such predictions. In the present studies, we evaluate an account of this bias in terms of inferred evidence: That people attempt to infer what would be observed if those predictions were tested, and then reason on the basis of this inferred evidence. We test several predictions of this account, including whether and how explanatory preferences depend on the reason why the truth of the effect is unknown (Experiment 1) and on the base rates of the known and unknown effects (Experiment 2), and what evidence people see as relevant to deciding between explanations (Experiment 3). These results help to reveal the cognitive processes underlying latent scope biases and highlight boundary conditions on these effects.

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