Topic 6: Causal Understanding
Causal understanding is an important part of human cognition. How do we understand that a particular event or force has caused another event? How do realize that inserting coins into a soda machine results in a cool beverage appearing below? And ultimately, how do we understand people’s reactions to events?
The NSF workshop panel on the Grand Challenges of Mind and Brain highlighted the question of ‘causal understanding’ as their 6th research topic. (This was the final topic in their report.)
In addition to studying causal understanding, it is probably just as important to study causal misunderstanding: that is, why do individuals infer the wrong causes for events? Or incorrect results from causes? Studying the errors we make in causal inference and understanding may help us discover the underlying neural mechanisms.
It probably isn’t too difficult to imagine that progress on causal understanding, and improvements in our ability to be correct about causation, will probably be important for the well-being of humanity. But what kinds of experiments and methods could be used to human brain mechanisms of causal understanding?