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PseudoscienceThe Conspiracy Against Science$
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Allison B. Kaufman and James C. Kaufman

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780262037426

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262037426.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM MIT PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.mitpress.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright The MIT Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MITSO for personal use.date: 28 June 2022

The Illusion of Causality: A Cognitive Bias Underlying Pseudoscience

The Illusion of Causality: A Cognitive Bias Underlying Pseudoscience

(p.45) 3 The Illusion of Causality: A Cognitive Bias Underlying Pseudoscience

Fernando Blanco

Helena Matute

The MIT Press

In the last decades, cognitive Psychology has provided researchers with a powerful background and the rigor of experimental methods to better understand why so many people believe in pseudoscience, paranormal phenomena and superstitions. According to recent evidence, those irrational beliefs could be the unintended result of how the mind evolved to use heuristics and reach conclusions based on scarce and incomplete data. Thus, we present visual illusions as a parallel to the type of fast and frugal cognitive bias that underlies pseudoscientific belief. In particular, we focus on the causal illusion, which consists of people believing that there is a causal link between two events that coincide just by chance. The extant psychological theories that can account for this causal illusion are described, as well as the factors that are able to modulate the bias. We also discuss that causal illusions are adaptive under some circumstances, although they often lead to utterly wrong beliefs. Finally, we mention several debiasing strategies that have been proved effective in fighting the causal illusion and preventing some of its consequences, such as pseudoscientific belief.

Keywords:   heuristics, visual illusions, cognitive bias, casuality

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