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

> Personal website

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.

Lara Kirfel

Postdoctoral Researcher

My research focuses on causal reasoning, moral cognition and counterfactual thinking with the occasional dip into philosophy. I like to drink strong black coffee.

Ari Beller

Graduate Student

> Personal website

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.

David Rose

Graduate Student

> Personal website

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.

Sarah Wu

Graduate Student

> Personal website

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.

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!

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

> Personal website

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.

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.

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!

Mary Markley

Research Assistant

I’m a junior at Stanford majoring in linguistics. I’m interested in anything related to language, especially its intersection with education. I really enjoy baking elaborate cakes for all my friends’ birthdays, especially as a form of procrastinating (procrastibaking!). I also spend time climbing trees, painting with watercolors, and staying up all night giving mini lectures to my friends about medieval Germanic phonology.

Siying Zhang

Research Assistant

I’m a dutiful questioner and an adroit researcher. I have a background in education and second language acquisition. I’m interested in how language affects social category development as well as perceived characteristics of individual social group members. I am also interested in the psychological and sociological disciplines that interact with each other and how the information I’ve learned from both perspectives are related together. So far at Stanford, I’m working on a couple of projects on causal judgements and shape bias. Ultimately, I’m planning to become a human factors researcher or UX research scientist. I love to do high intensity workouts followed by vanilla sweet cream cold brew coffee, or maybe coffee first!

Damini Kusum

Research Assistant

I am interested in the intersection of logic, epistemology, and causality, specifically with respect to formal models of causation. I am also trying to gain more experience in experimental philosophy. I received my undergraduate degree in mathematics from UCLA. In my spare time, I enjoy exploring political documentaries, alternative metal, Sufi, and Hindustani classical music (also, watching Reels).

Jeong Shin

Research Assistant

I’m an undergraduate studying Symbolic Systems & Asian American Studies. I’m interested in how people interact and communicate with each other, and how we use the power of computational models and technology to help us answer questions in these fields. Exploring how our identities (race, gender, culture, etc) may impact such interactions is something that deeply interests me, as well. I love hiking, shopping for earrings, and stress-baking, and my top three drinks would have to be matcha, black coffee, and kombucha.

Selena She

Research Assistant

I’m a rising senior and a Stanford CSLI summer intern! I’m interested in how humans rapidly and cooperatively extract information in the form of language. What are the cognitive and neural basis of these abilities? Can we try to represent/simulate them with computational models? Currently, I use a combination of NLP techniques and behavioral experiments to see how humans and machines deal with concepts, categorization, and lexical/event semantics. In the long term, I want to learn to use text data and neuroimaging to answer these cognitive questions in a meaningful way.

Xenia Bunk

Research Assistant

I am a graduate student in Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at LMU Munich and Technology Management at the Center for Digital Technology and Management. I am passionate about topics on the intersection of psychology and computer science and wrote my master thesis on theory of mind implementations in artificial systems. During my research assistantship I will research on wilful ignorance.

Helena Vasconcelos

Lab Affiliate

> Personal website

I am interested in how people interact with explainable AI agents, as well as how we can teach models to reason and explain. I am also working with Michael Bernstein’s and Ranjay Krishna’s groups. I love to eat Brazilian foods!

Xi Jia (Laura) Zhou

Lab Affiliate

> Personal website

I am currently a PhD candidate in Nick Haber’s Autonomous Agents 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.

Adam Huang

Lab Affiliate

> Personal website

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.

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

> Personal website

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

Allen Nie

Lab Affiliate

> Personal website

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.

Elyse Chase

Lab Affiliate

> Personal website

I am a Mechanical Engineering PhD student in the Shape Lab. My research interests are focused on exploring the role that haptic feedback plays in our perception of the world. I also like to paint.

Ben Prystawski

Lab Affiliate

> Personal website

I am a PhD student in the CoCoLab. My research involves studying how pedagogical language shapes cultural transmission of knowledge and analyzing connections between large language models and probabilistic models of cognition. I like rock climbing.

Kate Petrova

Lab Affiliate

> Personal website

I am an affective science PhD Student at the Stanford Psychophysiology Lab. I use a combination of behavioral experiments, experience-sampling, physiological measures, and computational modeling to understand how beliefs about emotions shape emotion regulation. When I am not in the lab, you can find me 3,000ft up in the sky, working towards my private pilot license!

Peter Zhu

Lab Affiliate

I am a PhD Student in the Stanford Social Learning Lab. My research interests focus on the representations and motivations that guide learning and play early in life. I like to eat tacos and drink coffee.

Alumni

Drawing

  • Zach Davis (postdoc): Now research scientist at Facebook Reality Labs.
  • 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). Moral dynamics: Grounding moral judgment in intuitive physics and intuitive psychology. Cognition.

Preprint PDF Link Github OSF

(2021). Predicting responsibility judgments from dispositional inferences and causal attributions. Cognitive Psychology.

Preprint PDF Link Github OSF

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

Preprint PDF Link Github OSF

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

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

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

PDF Link

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

PDF Dataset Demo

Collaborators

Some of the people we work with