Language and Causal Understanding: There's Something About Mary

Majid, Asifa (2001) Language and Causal Understanding: There's Something About Mary. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Making causal inferences is a ubiquitous property of the cognitive system. This dissertation examines how people make causal attributions in the social domain. Two cues to causality are examined. The first is the implicit causality in verbs and the second is covariation information. When people are presented with minimal sentences such as Mary fascinated Ted and then are asked what the cause of that event is, then people say something about Mary, for example, Mary was interesting. On the other hand, if they are presented with sentences such as Mary liked Ted, and then are asked about the cause, they say something about Ted, for example, Ted is nice. In the first example, cause is attributed to Mary or the first noun phrase (NP1); whereas in the second example, it is attributed to Ted, or the second noun phrase (NP2). This is called the implicit causality verb bias. The implicit causality bias is reviewed in some detail in the first two chapters. This is followed by a test of whether it is present even when no causal question is asked. The results from Chapter 3 suggest that the verb bias is present in such circumstances. Chapter 4 examined the relation between implicit causal information, such as that provided by implicit causality verbs, and explicit causal information, such as covariation theory. According to covariation theory, cause is determined by establishing what covaries with what. Chapter 4 demonstrated that both implicit and explicit sources of causal information are used to make attributions in production. However, Chapter 5 showed that while implicit causal information is also used in comprehension, the effect of explicit covariation information is weak. In order to ascertain exactly which cues people make to use attributions from covariation information Chapters 6 and 7 contrast a frequency signalling account of covariation theory with a focussing account. According to the frequency signalling account, cause is attributed to that individual which is in the smallest group; while according to the focussing account, cause is attributed to the individual who is in focal attention. It is found that both frequency and focussing influence attributions - and in very systematic ways.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Tony Sanford
Keywords: Cognitive psychology, Linguistics
Date of Award: 2001
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2001-76170
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 16:31
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 16:31

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