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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Promoting thinking in terms of causal structures: Impact on performance in solving complex problems


Goldwater and Gentner (2015) showed that the sensitivity for causal structures can be promoted with an intervention combining explication of causal models and guided structural alignment of situations from disparate fields with the same underlying causal model. We extended this intervention with inference questions and combined it with a subsequent complex problem-solving (CPS) task, in order to investigate whether enhanced sensitivity for causal structures results in better performance in CPS. This study (N = 108) compares the CPS performance indicators knowledge acquisition and knowledge application among three experimental groups (intervention, intervention extended with inference questions, control group) and reveals the following results: 1) The effectiveness of the intervention in increasing the sensitivity for causal structures was replicated. 2) Sensitivity for causal structures and CPS performance indicators were significantly positively correlated. 3) There is no direct effect of the intervention on CPS performance, but an indirect-only effect via enhanced sensitivity.

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