Causal impressions: Predicting when, not just whether

Michael E. Young, Ester T. Rogers, Joshua S. Beckmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


In 1739, David Hume established the so-called cues to causality- environmental cues that are important to the inference of causality. Although this descriptive account has been corroborated experimentally, it has not been established why these cues are useful, except that they may reflect statistical regularities in the environment. One of the cues to causality, covariation, helps predict whether an effect will occur, but not its time of occurrence. In the present study, evidence is provided that spatial and temporal contiguity improve an observer's ability to predict when an effect will occur, thus complementing the utility of covariation as a predictor of whether an effect will occur. While observing Michotte's (1946/1963) launching effect, participants showed greater accuracy and precision in their predictions of the onset of movement by the launched object when there was spatial and temporal contiguity. Furthermore, when auditory cues that bridged a delayed launch were included, causal ratings and predictability were similarly affected. These results suggest that the everyday inference of causality relies on our ability to predict whether and when an effect will occur.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-331
Number of pages12
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Causal impressions: Predicting when, not just whether'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this