Causality in Cognition Lab

The Causality in Cognition Lab at Stanford University studies the role of causality in our understanding of the world, and of each other.

What we do

… and how we do it

Some of the questions that guide our research:

  1. How does the mind learn to represent the causal structure of the world?
  2. What is the relationship between causal thinking and counterfactual simulation?
  3. How do we hold others responsible for the outcomes of their actions?

In our research, we formalize people’s mental models as computational models that yield quantitative predictions about a wide range of situations. To test these predictions, we use a combination of large-scale online experiments, interactive experiments in the lab, and eye-tracking experiments.


We are looking for prospective PhD students to join our lab in the fall 2020! If you’re interested in joining us, please send an email to

Tobias Gerstenberg

Principal investigator

I am interested in how people hold others responsible, how these judgments are grounded in causal representations of the world, and supported by counterfactual simulations. I also like to drink tea.

Personal website

Ari Beller

Lab manager

I did my undergraduate study in philosophy and my graduate study in computer science. I’m interested in work that integrates the methods and questions of these disciplines to understand the mind. I like to drink water.

Disha Dasgupta

Research assistant

I am a rising junior at Stanford University. I am interested in Computer Science, Math, and Cognitive Science - which I plan to pursue with a career as a Data Scientist. Outside of these interests, I also enjoy playing the piano, dancing, reading, and eating exorbitant amounts of sugar.

Alan Brown

Research assistant

I am a rising senior at Stanford majoring in psychology with an interest in neuroscience, sleep, and emotion regulation. I am interested in how brain injuries, in conjunction with innate factors, can influence daily lives. I think carbonated water is an underrated drink.

Allen Nie

Rotating graduate student

I’m a Computer Science PhD student focusing on Artificial Intelligence. I’m interested in allowing AI systems to have causal reasoning capabilities. I received my master of science in Symbolic Systems. I like to solve puzzles in my spare time.

Personal website

Elisa Kreiss

Lab affiliate

I’m a Linguistics PhD student and member of the ALPS lab. I’m interested in cognitive and computational approaches towards understanding language production and comprehension. I received my undergraduate degree in Cognitive Science. I also like to eat cake.

Personal website

Cai Guo

Lab affiliate

I’m a third-year PhD student interested in how people understand abstract concepts, such as personal identity and philosophical/literary ideas. In the CiCl lab, I’m working on building computational causal networks of how mental representations of abstract concepts originate from beliefs about small, concrete things.

Personal website

Erin Bennett

Lab affiliate

I’m a Psychology PhD student primarily in the CoCoLab. I’m interested in how vague language gets resolved by context, and in particular the semantics and pragmatics of causal language. I’m also interested in sentence meaning representation and discourse relations, especially causal relations.

Personal website

Andrew Nam

Lab affiliate

I’m a PhD student in the PDP lab. My research is on computational cognitive modeling, that is, identifying psychological constructs and understanding their mechanisms through computer models such as neural networks. In particular, I am interested in logical and mathematical reasoning which are essential cognitive faculties for inference, problem solving, and decision making.

Selected publications

List of all publications >>

(2019). Expectations affect physical causation judgments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Preprint Link Github OSF

(2018). Intuitive experimentation in the physical world. Cognitive Psychology.

Preprint PDF Github Press: Medium

(2018). Lucky or clever? From expectations to responsibility judgments. Cognition.

PDF Github OSF

(2017). Eye-tracking causality. Psychological Science.

PDF Github OSF Press: MIT News Press: Seeker Press:

(2017). Intuitive Theories. Oxford Handbook of Causal Reasoning.

PDF Link

(2015). Causal conceptions in social explanation and moral evaluation: A historical tour. Perspectives on Psychological Science.


(2015). Concepts in a probabilistic language of thought. The Conceptual Mind: New Directions in the Study of Concepts.

PDF Link

(2015). How, whether, why: Causal judgments as counterfactual contrasts. Proceedings of the 37th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.

PDF Dataset Poster

(2013). Causal responsibility and counterfactuals. Cognitive Science.

PDF Dataset Demo


Some of the people we work with

Noah Goodman
Stanford University
David Lagnado
University College London
Anne Schlottmann
University College London
Hyowon Gweon
Stanford University
Thomas Icard
Stanford University
Justin Gardner
Stanford University