Stable Causal Relationships Are Better Causal Relationships

Nadya Vasilyeva, Thomas Blanchard, Tania Lombrozo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


We report three experiments investigating whether people's judgments about causal relationships are sensitive to the robustness or stability of such relationships across a range of background circumstances. In Experiment 1, we demonstrate that people are more willing to endorse causal and explanatory claims based on stable (as opposed to unstable) relationships, even when the overall causal strength of the relationship is held constant. In Experiment 2, we show that this effect is not driven by a causal generalization's actual scope of application. In Experiment 3, we offer evidence that stable causal relationships may be seen as better guides to action. Collectively, these experiments document a previously underappreciated factor that shapes people's causal reasoning: the stability of the causal relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1265-1296
Number of pages32
JournalCognitive science
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • Background conditions
  • Causality
  • Explanation
  • Invariance
  • Moderating variables
  • Robustness
  • Sensitivity
  • Stability


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