Tell me your (cognitive) budget, and I’ll tell you what you value

Cognition 247 (C):105782 (2024)
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Consider the following two (hypothetical) generic causal claims: “Living in a neighborhood with many families with children increases purchases of bicycles” and “living in an affluent neighborhood with many families with children increases purchases of bicycles.” These claims not only differ in what they suggest about how bicycle ownership is distributed across different neighborhoods (i.e., “the data”), but also have the potential to communicate something about the speakers’ values: namely, the prominence they accord to affluence in representing and making decisions about the social world. Here, we examine the relationship between the level of granularity with which a cause is described in a generic causal claim (e.g., neighborhood vs. affluent neighborhood) and the value of the information contained in the causal model that generates that claim. We argue that listeners who know any two of the following can make reliable inferences about the third: 1) the level of granularity at which a speaker makes a generic causal claim, 2) the speaker’s values, and 3) the data available to the speaker. We present results of four experiments (N=1,323) in the domain of social categories that provide evidence in keeping with these predictions.

Author Profiles

David Kinney
Yale University
Tania Lombrozo
Princeton University


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