University of California, Berkeley
Explanation: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful
Like scientists, children and adults are often motivated to explain the world around them and have strong intuitions about what makes something a good (or beautiful) explanation. Why are we so driven to explain, and what accounts for our explanatory preferences? In this talk I’ll present evidence that both children and adults prefer explanations that are simple and have broad scope, consistent with many accounts of explanation from philosophy of science. The good news is that a preference for simple and broad explanations can sometimes improve learning; The bad news is that under some conditions, a preference for simplicity can lead people to systematically misremember observations, and a preference for broad scope can encourage errors of overgeneralization. An important take-home lesson is that seeking, generating, and evaluating explanations plays an important role in human judgment and serves as a valuable window onto core cognitive processes such as learning and inference.
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