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Evaluating everyday explanations

Zemla, JC; Sloman, S; Bechlivanidis, C; Lagnado, DA; (2017) Evaluating everyday explanations. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review , 24 (5) pp. 1488-1500. 10.3758/s13423-017-1258-z. Green open access

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Abstract

People frequently rely on explanations provided by others to understand complex phenomena. A fair amount of attention has been devoted to the study of scientific explanation, and less on understanding how people evaluate naturalistic, everyday explanations. Using a corpus of diverse explanations from Reddit's "Explain Like I'm Five" and other online sources, we assessed how well a variety of explanatory criteria predict judgments of explanation quality. We find that while some criteria previously identified as explanatory virtues do predict explanation quality in naturalistic settings, other criteria, such as simplicity, do not. Notably, we find that people have a preference for complex explanations that invoke more causal mechanisms to explain an effect. We propose that this preference for complexity is driven by a desire to identify enough causes to make the effect seem inevitable.

Type: Article
Title: Evaluating everyday explanations
Location: United States
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.3758/s13423-017-1258-z
Publisher version: http://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-017-1258-z
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Causal reasoning, Explanation, Knowledge
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Experimental Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1544823
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