Specific Research Projects  Causal Thinking


Causal thinking and reasoning are among our most central cognitive competences: They enable us to make predictions, to diagnose the causes of observed events, and to choose the right actions to achieve our goals. A core research interest at the Parmenides Center for the Study of Thinking is hence to investigate the structure, origin, evolution, and neural basis of causal thinking.


The approach of our project is interdisciplinary and combines empirical and conceptual/philosophical methods. Goals are to differentiate the various concepts and ideas of causality involved in “intuitive” folk psychological and psychological claims about our causal ability and to investigate them from different perspectives (experimental and behavioral psychology, philosophy, physics, evolutionary and anthropology).




Specific Projects


Understanding perceptual causality

Here we want to answer the question whether the detection of a causal event is an automatic and unconscious process that can be assigned to early visual areas. In more general terms: What is the temporal neural signature of perceiving causal and a-causal events? For answering these questions we run experiments with the Michotte-Paradigm and analogous task. We record participant’s EEG-signals during the task.
(Researchers: Michael Öllinger, Matus Simkovic)


Categorization and causality

In this project we are interested in the following questions:

  • How does categorization influence humans’ ability to make causal-inferences and vice versa.
  • What are the neural signatures of learning causal categories?
  • What are the foundations of dynamic causal categorizations?

For answering these questions we run experiments with Michael Waldmann’s virus paradigm and analogous task. We record participants’ EEG-signals during the task. Furthermore, we are interested in the philosophical/conceptual foundations and  implications of the current scientific discussion.
(Researchers: Michael Waldmann, Michael Öllinger, Britta Glatzeder)


Causality and counterfactual reasoning

This research project aims to answer the question, how the interplay between counterfactual reasoning and causality can be conceptualized philosophically and operationalized experimentally. We develop behavioural experiments that operationalize the philosophical assumptions in a straight forward way.
(Researchers: Thomas Krödel, Britta Glatzeder, Michael Waldmann)


In the near future ...

we plan to integrate research on animal cognition and findings in cognitive archeology.