Orlando Espino visits lab

Dr Orlando Espino from the University of La Laguna, Tenerife is visiitng the lab and will give a talk next Tuesday on reasoning from negated conditionals.

Our article on counterfactual reasoning in Cognitive Science has been published this month:

Espino, O. & Byrne, R.M.J. (2018). Thinking about the opposite of what is said: counterfactual conditionals and symbolic or alternate simulations of negation. Cognitive Science. DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12677

cog sci

The abstract is as follows:

“When people understand a counterfactual such as “if the flowers had been roses, the trees would have been orange trees,” they think about the conjecture, “there were roses and orange trees,” and they also think about its opposite, the presupposed facts. We test whether people think about the opposite by representing alternates, for example, “poppies and apple trees,” or whether models can contain symbols, for example, “no roses and no orange trees.” We report the discovery of an inference-to-alternates effect—a tendency to make an affirmative inference that refers to an alternate even from a negative minor premise, for example, “there were no orange trees, therefore there were poppies.” Nine experiments show the inference-to-alternates effect occurs in a binary context, but not a multiple context, and for direct and indirect reference; it can be induced and reduced by prior experience with similar inferences, and it also occurs for indicative conditionals. The results have implications for theories of counterfactual conditionals, and of negation.”

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Welcome to Juan Cortes Aravena



Juan Cortes Aravena arrived in Trinity this week.  Juan is carrying out a PhD in the University of Talca in Chile. He is visiting the lab for six months to work on conditional inferences.

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Congratulations to Dr Timmons!

Shane's graduation

Congratulations to Shane Timmons who was recently awarded his PhD degree on ‘Cognitive processes in moral judgment’. Shane’s research was funded by the John Templeton Foundation and a Trinity postgraduate award.

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Byrne & Timmons 2018 Cognition

Shane Timmons and I have published some of our experiments on ‘Moral hindsight for good actions and the effects of imagined alternatives to reality’ in Cognition, 178, 82-91. doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2018.05.010

The abstract is as follows:

Five experiments identify an asymmetric moral hindsight effect for judgments about whether a morally good action should have been taken, e.g., Ann should run into traffic to save Jill who fell before an oncoming truck. Judgments are increased when the outcome is good (Jill sustained minor bruises), as Experiment 1 shows; but they are not decreased when the outcome is bad (Jill sustained life-threatening injuries), as Experiment 2 shows. The hindsight effect is modified by imagined alternatives to the outcome: judgments are amplified by a counterfactual that if the good action had not been taken, the outcome would have been worse, and diminished by a semi-factual that if the good action had not been taken, the outcome would have been the same. Hindsight modification occurs when the alternative is presented with the outcome, and also when participants have already committed to a judgment based on the outcome, as Experiments 3A and 3B show. The hindsight effect occurs not only for judgments in life-and-death situations but also in other domains such as sports, as Experiment 4 shows. The results are consistent with a causal-inference explanation of moral judgment and go against an aversive-emotion one.

The research was supported by a grant awarded by the John Templeton Foundation.

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Timmons & Byrne 2018 QJEP

Shane Timmons has published several experiments from his PhD on ‘Moral fatigue: the effects of cognitive fatigue on moral reasoning’ in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, doi/abs/10.1177/1747021818772045

The abstract is as follows:

We report two experiments that show a moral fatigue effect: participants who are fatigued after they have carried out a tiring cognitive task make different moral judgements compared to participants who are not fatigued. Fatigued participants tend to judge that a moral violation is less permissible even though it would have a beneficial effect, such as killing one person to save the lives of five others. The moral fatigue effect occurs when people make a judgement that focuses on the harmful action, killing one person, but not when they make a judgement that focuses on the beneficial outcome, saving the lives of others, as shown in Experiment 1 (n = 196). It also occurs for judgements about morally good actions, such as jumping onto railway tracks to save a person who has fallen there, as shown in Experiment 2 (n = 187). The results have implications for alternative explanations of moral reasoning.

Some of the research was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.



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Philosophy of Imagination Conference, Bochum



Chris Badura organised an excellent conference on the philosophy of the imagination at the  Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany on March 15th -16th 2018. Ruth Byrne gave a talk on ‘Reasoning with counterfactual conditionals’ and the full program is here.

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Congratulations to Madhav Bhargav on his graduation! Madhav’s applied MSc thesis was a cross cultural comparison of counterfactual thoughts and moral judgments in individuals in India and Ireland.

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