When the temporal interval or delay separating cause and effect is consistent over repeated instances, it becomes possible to predict when the effect will follow from the cause, hence temporal predictability serves as an appropriate term for describing consistent cause-effect delays. It has been demonstrated that in instrumental action-outcome learning tasks, enhancing temporal predictability by holding the cause-effect interval constant elicits higher judgements of causality compared to conditions involving variable temporal intervals. Here, we examine whether temporal predictability exerts a similar influence when causal learning takes place through observation rather than intervention through instrumental action. Four experiments demonstrated that judgements of causality were higher when the temporal interval was constant than when it was variable, and that judgements declined with increasing variability. We further found that this beneficial effect of predictability was stronger in situations where the effect base-rate was zero (Experiments 1 and 3). The results therefore clearly indicate that temporal predictability enhances impressions of causality, and that this effect is robust and general. Factors that could mediate this effect are discussed.
- Causal learning