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The Arrow of Time through the Causal Lens: When Causal Beliefs Determine Temporal Order

Bechlivanidis, C; (2015) The Arrow of Time through the Causal Lens: When Causal Beliefs Determine Temporal Order. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Do causes always precede their effects? Can we affect the past? Or is the unidirectionality of time a consequence of the causal fabric that makes up our universe? The relationship between causality and temporality is an intriguing subject for physicists, philosophers and fans of science fiction. In psychology, causal and temporal perception have been usually studied independently. Recent research, however, has demonstrated the key role of temporal order cues in causal attribution, showing, for example, that children from a very young age expect causes to precede their effects. Here, we follow the opposite route: building on recent findings that the elapsed time between two events appears to contract when the events are assumed to be causally linked, we examined whether beliefs or perceptions of causal structure can affect the perceived temporal order. Our results point to a novel perceptual illusion that we call the "causal reordering effect": in the presence of strong causal beliefs, causal order defines temporal order; the presumed cause is seen to precede its associated effect even if, in reality, it occurs after it. We present experiments illustrating the reordering effect not only when causal relationships are recently learned but also when causality is directly perceived. In addition, we show the effect to persist despite extended exposure to the stimuli and to lead participants not only to reorder the events but also to misremember the stimuli. The perception of causality in dynamic sequences with such extreme violations of Newtonian principles conflicts with the predictions of current theories of causal perception. This observation led us to conduct a set of studies that re-evaluate the findings upon which those theories are based. Our results indicate that causal impressions are far more ubiquitous than currently thought and that previous interpretations of experimental findings conflate judgements of causality with judgements of collision faithfulness.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: The Arrow of Time through the Causal Lens: When Causal Beliefs Determine Temporal Order
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: causality, temporal order, michotte, causal inference, causal perception
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1462081
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