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.

You can find out more about what we do, what we value, and how to join us here.

People

… who are doing the work

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

Zach Davis

Postdoctoral researcher

I am interested in how people learn complex causal relationships, and how they use that causal knowledge to achieve their goals. I did not like eating durian ice cream.

Personal website

Ari Beller

Graduate student

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.

Personal website

David Rose

Graduate student

My research is mainly focused on how a teleological view of causation features in our view of composition, persistence and essence. Here is a picture of me thinking about the essence of pizza and wondering whether nacho pizza is a kind of pizza.

Personal website

Sarah Wu

Graduate student

I’m interested in computational models of social cognition, including aspects of social learning, inference, and judgment. I received undergraduate degrees in brain/cognitive sciences and applied math. I like to drink boba.

Personal website

Yingchen Xu

Research assistant

I am interested in understanding human learning and I am excited about building machines that can think like human beings. I did my undergraduate studies in CS and math, and have worked on some research and applications in ML. I love backpacking!

Joseph Outa

Research assistant

I am interested in how people gain information about the physical and social world, the degree of accuracy and bias of this information, and how it is used to make decisions. Currently I am exploring collaborative projects involving motivated causal reasoning, early development of theory of mind, and cross-cultural differences in early abstract reasoning. I am working jointly with Dr. Hyowon Gweon’s Social Learning Lab and Dr. Michael Frank’s Language and Cognition Lab at Stanford. I enjoy rice bowls, bagels and spicy masala chai!

Xi Jia (Laura) Zhou

Research assistant

I am currently a research coordinator at the Social Learning Lab. I double-majored in cognitive neuroscience and computer sciences from Minerva School. I am interested in how causal representations form our understandings in both the physical world and the social world. In my spare time, I enjoy learning electronics and observing squirrels.

Personal website

Addison Jadwin

Research assistant

I’m a junior at Stanford majoring in symbolic systems. I’m interested in understanding cognition through computational models. Outside of this I enjoy playing viola and taking care of my fish and corals!

Ricky Ma

Research assistant

I am interested in how causal reasoning mechanisms in humans can inspire machine learning algorithms that are both more generalizable and interpretable. I am especially passionate about using new ML and AI technology for social good. I completed my BSc. at UBC studying Cognitive Systems with a focus in Computational Intelligence and Design. I like to drink coffee, maybe a bit too much.

Personal website

Shruti Sridhar

Research assistant

I am a sophomore at Stanford looking to major in Computer Science on the AI track. I am interested in using computational models to explore causality in social settings. Outside of that, I enjoy dancing and amateur vegan baking.

Sloan Charles

Research assistant

I am a sophomore at Stanford planning to major in Psychology and minor in Creative Writing and/or African and African American Studies. I am working on a developmental project focused on children’s cognition, and I hope to work more with children in the future. I love eating soup dumplings and crispy tofu!

Hana Dao

Research assistant

I am a sophomore at Stanford and interested in communications and psychology. Currently, I am working on a project on counterfactual thinking and children’s development. I am also hoping to explore how culture and race affect cognition. In my free time, I love baking sweets and my favorite drink would have to be mango tea with sea salt foam & boba!

Adam Huang

Lab affiliate

I did my undergraduate in physics and mathematics. I am interested in computational models of causal reasoning, and how they support intuitive physical predictions. I am also interested in cognitive biases that shape how we perceive real physical world. I like to play and watch soccer.

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.

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.

Max Kanwal

Lab affiliate

I’m a PhD student focusing on theoretical neuroscience and neuroengineering. I’m interested in developing foundational theory for neural interfacing. Consequently, I am broadly interested in topics related to network causal inference. I’m also always on the lookout for good vegan cheesecake.

Liang Zhou

Lab affiliate

I study how people learn and use structural knowledge, from both neural and cognitive perspectives. I like to stay hydrated.

Personal website

Allen Nie

Lab affiliate

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

Alumni

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  • Erin Bennett (Lab affiliate)
  • Bryce Linford (Research assistant): Now PhD student at UCLA.
  • Antonia Langenhoff (Research assistant): Now PhD student at UC Berkeley.

Selected publications

List of all publications >>

(2021). A counterfactual simulation model of causal judgments for physical events. Psychological Review.

Preprint PDF Link Github OSF

(2020). Expectations affect physical causation judgments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Preprint PDF 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 Link Github OSF Press: MIT News Press: Seeker Press: MedicalResearch.com

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

PDF Link

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

PDF Link

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

PDF Dataset Demo

Collaborators

Some of the people we work with

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Noah Goodman
Stanford University
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David Lagnado
University College London
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Anne Schlottmann
University College London
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Hyowon Gweon
Stanford University
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Thomas Icard
Stanford University
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Justin Gardner
Stanford University
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Laura Niemi
Munk School
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Neil Bramley
Edinburgh