Steven A. Sloman

Steven A. Sloman
Brown University · Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences

PhD

About

214
Publications
104,383
Reads
How we measure 'reads'
A 'read' is counted each time someone views a publication summary (such as the title, abstract, and list of authors), clicks on a figure, or views or downloads the full-text. Learn more
12,943
Citations
Introduction
Steven A. Sloman currently works at the Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, Brown University. Steven does research in Cognitive Science and Cognitive Psychology. His recent book with Phil Fernbach is called The Knowledge Illusion (Penguin/Random House)

Publications

Publications (214)
Article
Polarization is rising in most countries in the West. How can we reduce it? One potential strategy is to ask people to explain how a political policy works—how it leads to consequences— because that has been shown to induce a kind of intellectual humility: Explanation causes people to reduce their judgments of understanding of the issues (their “il...
Article
Public attitudes that are in opposition to scientific consensus can be disastrous and include rejection of vaccines and opposition to climate change mitigation policies. Five studies examine the interrelationships between opposition to expert consensus on controversial scientific issues, how much people actually know about these issues, and how muc...
Article
Full-text available
Unobservable mechanisms that tie causes to their effects generate observable events. How can one make inferences about hidden causal structures? This paper introduces the domain-matching heuristic to explain how humans perform causal reasoning when lacking mechanistic knowledge. We posit that people reduce the otherwise vast space of possible causa...
Article
While the scientific community documents environmental degradation and develops scenarios to identify the operational margins of system Earth, less attention is given to how decisions are made that steer the system in one direction or the other. We propose to use strategy games for this purpose, increasing the representation of human agency in scen...
Conference Paper
At least two fundamental types of evidence feature in attempts to persuade: Anecdotal and generalized (Baesler & Burgoon, 1994). Experimental research has found anecdotal evidence more effective at changing attitudes in issues marked by personal significance and health-relevance (Freling et al., 2020). These apply to marijuana legalization, where a...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
We present a novel corpus of 445 human-and computer-generated documents, comprising about 27,000 clauses, annotated for semantic clause types and coherence relations that allow for nuanced comparison of artificial and natural discourse modes. The corpus covers both formal and informal discourse, and contains documents generated using fine-tuned GPT...
Preprint
Full-text available
We present a novel corpus of 445 human- and computer-generated documents, comprising about 27,000 clauses, annotated for semantic clause types and coherence relations that allow for nuanced comparison of artificial and natural discourse modes. The corpus covers both formal and informal discourse, and contains documents generated using fine-tuned GP...
Article
My first 30‐odd years of research in cognitive science has been driven by an attempt to balance two facts about human thought that seem incompatible and two corresponding ways of understanding information processing. The facts are that, on one hand, human memories serve as sophisticated pattern recognition devices with great flexibility and an abil...
Article
Full-text available
Cognitive neuroscience seeks to discover the biological foundations of the human mind. One goal is to explain how mental operations are generated by the information processing architecture of the human brain. Our aim is to assess whether this is a well-defined objective. Our contention will be that it is not because the information processing of an...
Preprint
Full-text available
A major challenge in research involving artificial intelligence (AI) is the development of algorithms that can find solutions to problems that can generalize to different environments and tasks. Unlike AI, humans are adept at finding solutions that can transfer. We hypothesize this is because their solutions are informed by causal models. We propos...
Article
Full-text available
Objective To assess the extent to which political ideology affects COVID-19 preventive behaviors and related beliefs and attitudes in the U.S. Methods Two surveys, one using a convenience sample and another using a nationally representative sample, were conducted in September and November 2020, respectively. Multiple regressions compared political...
Preprint
Full-text available
While the scientific community has focused on documenting environmental degradation and developing scenarios that help identify the operational margins for system Earth, less attention has been given to the mental models of decision-makers that underpin environmental policies. We suggest that global efforts to stop deforestation and biodiversity lo...
Poster
Full-text available
In experiments, anecdotes are more effective at changing minds than statistical evidence in health domains (Freling et al., 2020). We examine the role of social media anecdotes in the emerging consensus on marijuana legalization. Machine learning applied to relevant Reddit discourse (2008-2019) shows that anecdotal themes were prominent throughout,...
Poster
Full-text available
Narratives (sequences of purposively related concrete situations) and arguments (reasoning and conclusions in an attempt to persuade) are distinct cornerstones of human discourse. While theories of their linguistic structures exist, it is unclear which theorized features influence perception of narrative and argument quality. We use an original dat...
Poster
Full-text available
We use a novel dataset of >400 social media and news documents comprising >20K clauses annotated for elements and structure of narratives and arguments to compare human-generated text with output produced by state-of-the-art text-generating algorithms. Despite improving quality, the best algorithms still produce sub-human output. Trained mainly on...
Article
Does an individual’s risk profile predict their social distancing and mask wearing in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic? Common sense and some health behavior theories suggest that as a perceived threat increases, an individual should be more likely to take preventive measures. We explore this hypothesis using survey responses collected from 11...
Article
Full-text available
The overalternating bias is that people rate sequences with an excess of alternation as more random than prescribed by information theory. There are two main explanations: the representativeness heuristic (Kahneman & Tversky Cognitive Psychology, 3, 430–454, 1972) and the implicit encoding hypothesis (Falk & Konold Psychological Review, 104, 301–31...
Preprint
Full-text available
Cognitive neuroscience seeks to discover the biological foundations of the human mind. One goal is to explain how mental operations are generated by the information processing architecture of the human brain. Our aim is to assess whether this is a well-defined objective. Our contention will be that it is not because the information processing of an...
Article
Full-text available
We present a new framework that allows understanding those we deem irrational in the climate debate. Realizing if the issue is one of information, beliefs, values or means opens the door for more constructive dialogue. Decision-makers diverge in their responses to the urgent need for action on climate and biodiversity. Action gaps are fueled by the...
Article
We evaluate whether people will outsource their opinion on public policy to consensus conference participants. The ideal consensus conference brings together a representative sample of citizens and introduces them to the range of perspectives and evidence related to some policy. The sample is given the opportunity to ask questions of experts and to...
Chapter
Full-text available
Using the results of the detailed survey conducted by Korea Institute for National Unification in 2020 with representative national samples of South Koreans, we show how various misestimations of societal knowledge about Korean unification and attitudes towards it shape the current public opinion impasse on the topic.
Preprint
Full-text available
Leclère et al.1 have outlined the possibility of a biodiversity transition for the 21st century, a line of thinking equivalent to the Forest Transition theory and what it says about forest cover globally2. The authors use a suite of global models to explore the impacts on global biodiversity of interventions on land-use, consumption and production...
Preprint
Full-text available
A label’s entrenchment, its degree of use by a community, affects perceived explanatory value even if the label contains no substantive information (Hemmatian & Sloman, 2018). In four experiments, we show that lay Americans and mental health professionals see entrenched psychiatric and non-psychiatric diagnostic labels as better explanations than n...
Article
Full-text available
Five experiments are reported to compare models of attitude formation about hot-button policy issues like climate change. In broad strokes, the deficit model states that incorrect opinions are a result of a lack of information, while the cultural cognition model states that opinions are formed to maximize congruence with the group that one affiliat...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
We tested an implication of the community of knowledge hypothesis, that people fail to distinguish their own knowledge from other people's knowledge in a collectivist society (China) as they do in individualistic societies like the United States. As predicted, despite the absence of any actual explanatory information, people rated their own underst...
Chapter
Full-text available
Evans and Over (1996) made a seminal contribution to the cognitive sciences by describing two different routes humans take to reason toward their goals, one associated with intuition, the other with deliberation. We show how knowledge provided by our communities influences both routes. Many methods of outsourcing cognitive effort– taking advantage...
Poster
Full-text available
A label’s entrenchment, its degree of use by members of a community, affects its perceived explanatory value even if the label provides no substantive information (Hemmatian & Sloman, 2018). Here we show that entrenched psychiatric and non-psychiatric diagnostic labels are seen by laypersons and mental health professionals as better explanations ev...
Poster
Full-text available
Evidence-responsive arguments are hypothesized to assist attitude change. Instead, our topic model showed certain evidence-unresponsive arguments to be increasing on Reddit prior to majority support for gay marriage and less after and the opposite for evidence-responsive discourse. Marijuana legalization showed decreasing evidence-responsive discou...
Preprint
Full-text available
Mechanisms play a central role in how we think about causality, yet not all causal explanations describe mechanisms. Across four experiments, we find that people evaluate explanations differently depending on whether or not they include mechanisms. Despite common wisdom suggesting that explanations ought to be simple (appealing to as few causes as...
Preprint
A label’s entrenchment, its degree of use by members of a community, affects its perceived explanatory value even if the label provides no substantive information (Hemmatian & Sloman, 2018). In three experiments, we show that laypersons and mental health professionals see entrenched psychiatric and non-psychiatric diagnostic labels as better explan...
Preprint
What are the criteria that people use to evaluate everyday explanations? We focus on simplicity, coherence, and unification. We consider various operationalizations of each construct within the context of explanations to measure how people respond to them. With regard to simplicity, some of the psychological literature suggests that people do have...
Preprint
Using the results of detailed surveys conducted by National Institute for Korean Unification in 2018 and 2019 with representative national samples of South Koreans, we argue that value-derived rules and consequences of policies are useful for conceptualizing different types of attitudes toward Korean unification.
Preprint
Evans and Over (1996) made a seminal contribution to the cognitive sciences by describing two different routes humans take to reason toward their goals, one associated with intuition, the other with deliberation. We show how knowledge provided by our communities influences both routes. Many methods of outsourcing cognitive effort– taking advantage...
Chapter
Full-text available
What are the criteria that people use to evaluate everyday explanations? This chapter focuses on simplicity, coherence, and unification. It considers various operationalizations of each construct within the context of explanations to measure how people respond to them. With regard to simplicity, some of the psychological literature suggests that pe...
Chapter
Full-text available
Using the results of detailed surveys conducted by Korea Institute for National Unification in 2018 and 2019 with representative national samples of South Koreans, we argue that value-derived rules and consequences of policies are useful for conceptualizing different types of attitudes toward Korean unification.
Article
An individual's knowledge is collective in at least two senses: it often comes from other people's testimony, and its deployment in reasoning and action requires accuracy underwritten by other people's knowledge. What must one know to participate in a collective knowledge system? Here, we marshal evidence that individuals retain detailed causal inf...
Preprint
Full-text available
Approaching issues through the lens of non-negotiable values increases the perceived intractability of debate (Baron & Spranca, 1997), while focusing on concrete consequences of policies instead results in the moderation of extreme opinions (Fernbach et al., 2013) and greater likelihood of conflict resolution (Baron & Leshner, 2000). Using comments...
Preprint
Approaching issues through the lens of non-negotiable values increases the perceived intractability of debate (Baron & Spranca, 1997), while focusing on concrete consequences of policies instead results in the moderation of extreme opinions (Fernbach et al., 2013) and greater likelihood of conflict resolution (Baron & Leshner, 2000). Using comments...
Article
Full-text available
Recent political events around the world, including the apparently sudden rise of populism and decline of democratic zeal, have surprised many of us and offered a window onto how people form beliefs and attitudes about the wider world. Cognitive scientists have tended to view belief and attitude formation from one of three perspectives: as a proces...
Data
Includes plots of the relative popularity of each topic over time based on the Latent Dirichlet Allocation model reported in the manuscript, as well as top words associated with each topic and their probabilities under that topic.
Poster
Full-text available
Based on a paper in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, this poster provides evidence that explanations using commonly-used labels are perceived as more explanatory, even if the labels are clearly uninformative and the explanation patently circular. We argue that this reliance on community cues arose because the community often has useful...
Technical Report
Full-text available
The Internet provides fast and ubiquitous communication that enables all kinds of communities and provides citizens with easy access to vast amounts of information, although the information is not necessarily verified and may present a distorted view of real events or facts. The Internet’s power as an instant source of mass information can be used...
Article
Full-text available
The Internet provides fast and ubiquitous communication that enables all kinds of communities and provides citizens with easy access to vast amounts of information, although the information is not necessarily verified and may present a distorted view of real events or facts. The Internet’s power as an instant source of mass information can be used...
Article
Full-text available
Formal or categorical explanation involves the use of a label to explain a property of an object or group of objects. In 4 experiments, we provide evidence that label entrenchment, the degree to which a label is accepted and used by members of the community, influences the judged quality of a categorical explanation whether or not the explanation o...
Preprint
Formal or categorical explanation involves the use of a label to explain a property of an object or group of objects. In 4 experiments, we provide evidence that label entrenchment, the degree to which a label is accepted and used by members of the community, influences the judged quality of a categorical explanation whether or not the explanation o...
Chapter
Evans and Over (1996) made a seminal contribution to the cognitive sciences by describing two different routes humans take to reason toward their goals, one associated with intuition, the other with deliberation. We show how knowledge provided by our communities influences both routes. Many methods of outsourcing cognitive effort– taking advantage...
Chapter
One of David Over’s seminal contributions to the cognitive sciences was highlighting the impressive capacity of humans to reason towards their goals (Evans & Over, 1996). Knowledge provided by our communities has a strong impact on both intuition and deliberation in service of such goals. We argue that intuition is primarily associated with outsour...
Article
Full-text available
We propose that an important determinant of judged confidence is the evaluation of evidence that is unknown or missing, and overconfidence is often driven by the neglect of unknowns. We contrast this account with prior research suggesting that over-confidence is due to biased processing of known evidence in favor of a focal hypothesis. In Study 1,...
Article
Full-text available
This research examines the effects of causal beliefs on drug preference. In three studies, 374 undergraduate participants imagined that they suffered from a focal symptom and then indicated their preference between a drug claiming to treat only the focal symptom (single treatment) and a drug claiming to treat the focal symptom and a nonfocal sympto...
Article
Full-text available
A number of philosophers argue for the value of abstraction in explanation. According to these prescriptive theories, an explanation becomes superior when it leaves out details that make no difference to the occurrence of the event one is trying to explain (the explanandum). Abstract explanations are not frugal placeholders for improved, detailed f...
Article
Full-text available
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 onlin...
Article
Full-text available
In four experiments, we tested the community-of-knowledge hypothesis, that people fail to distinguish their own knowledge from other people?s knowledge. In all the experiments, despite the absence of any actual explanatory information, people rated their own understanding of novel natural phenomena as higher when they were told that scientists unde...
Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter explains the screening-off rule in the psychological laboratory. The Markov assumption states that any variable in a set is independent in probability of all its ancestors in the set conditional on its own parents. The screening-off rule is also critical to allow Bayes nets to make an inference of the state of an unknown variable in a...
Article
Purpose of Study Shenhav et al. (2011) found that individual analytical style (reflective vs. intuitive) predicts belief in God or a higher power. Although intuitive thinkers are more likely to have strengthened religious beliefs since childhood, there is no correlation between analytical style and familial religiosity during childhood. This study...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Individual differences in reflectiveness have been found to predict belief in God. We hypothesize that this association may be due to a broader inclination for intuitive thinkers to endorse teleological explanations. In support of our hypothesis, we find that scientifically unfounded teleological explanations are more likely to be endorsed by intui...
Book
Full-text available
This volume contributes to a current debate within the psychology of thought that has wide implications for our ideas about creativity, decision making, and economic behavior. The essays focus on the role of implicit, unconscious thinking in creativity and problem solving, the interaction of intuition and analytic thinking, and the relationship bet...
Chapter
Full-text available
Our goal in this chapter is to address the problems of determinism and free will. But do not give up on us quite yet. We do not purport to have anything to say about whether the world is deterministic or whether there are agents in it that have free will. Our goals are much more modest: to make some suggestions about what the human cognitive system...
Article
Full-text available
Causal knowledge plays a crucial role in human thought, but the nature of causal representation and inference remains a puzzle. Can human causal inference be captured by relations of probabilistic dependency, or does it draw on richer forms of representation? This article explores this question by reviewing research in reasoning, decision making, v...
Article
In this paper we present two design guidelines, causal order and continuity, to be used as rules of thumb for designing intuitive interactions based on principles of causal reasoning. We propose that designing interactions to behave like real-world systems of cause and effect makes them more intuitive. Using these basic principles avoids the limita...
Article
Full-text available
Studies of categorical induction typically examine how belief in a premise (e. g., Falcons have an ulnar artery) projects on to a conclusion (e. g., Robins have an ulnar artery). We study induction in cases in which the premise is uncertain (e. g., There is an 80% chance that falcons have an ulnar artery). Jeffrey's rule is a normative model for up...
Article
Full-text available
We propose a mixed belief model of self-deception. According to the theory, people distribute belief over two possible causal paths to an action, one where the action is freely chosen and one where it is due to factors outside of conscious control. Self-deceivers take advantage of uncertainty about the influence of each path on their behavior, and...
Article
Full-text available
Quantum probability theory (QP) is the best formal representation available of the most common form of judgment involving attribute comparison (inside judgment). People are capable, however, of judgments that involve proportions over sets of instances (outside judgment). Here, the theory does not do so well. I discuss the theory both in terms of de...
Article
Full-text available
Previous work has shown that predictions can be mediated by mechanistic beliefs. The present study shows that such mediation only occurs in the face of contradictory, and not corroborative, evidence. In four experiments, we presented participants with causal statements describing a common-cause structure (E1←C→E2). Then we informed them of the stat...
Article
Full-text available
Notes that the stimulation from a classic paper in the heuristics and biases tradition does not come only from the insights provided into processes of judgment and decision making; it also comes from anxiety, from tension introduced between immediate intuition and more measured rational belief. The classic demonstrations often suggest 2 minds at wo...
Article
Full-text available
We are highly sympathetic to Dhar and Gorlin's goal of developing a dual system theory of choice. But we do feel that the proposal could be changed and clarified in a few ways. Specifically, we believe that the evidence suggests that the systems operate in parallel, not sequentially. In addition, the relation between intuitive/associative processin...
Article
Judea Pearl won the 2010 Rumelhart Prize in computational cognitive science due to his seminal contributions to the development of Bayes nets and causal Bayes nets, frameworks that are central to multiple domains of the computational study of mind. At the heart of the causal Bayes nets formalism is the notion of a counterfactual, a representation o...
Article
Full-text available
People often hold extreme political attitudes about complex policies. We hypothesized that people typically know less about such policies than they think they do (the illusion of explanatory depth) and that polarized attitudes are enabled by simplistic causal models. Asking people to explain policies in detail both undermined the illusion of explan...
Article
Full-text available
Two experiments tested a total of 509 participants on insight problems (the radiation problem and the nine-dot problem). Half of the participants were first exposed to a 1-min movie that included a subliminal hint. The hint raised the solution rate of people who did not recognize it. In addition, the way they solved the problem was affected by the...