Executive Control and Causal Reasoning
A third major goal of our research is to understand the cognitive and neural foundations of causal inference. The capacity to infer the causal structure of the environment is central for executive control, supporting the representation of causal models that shape our understanding of how the world works and establish the proper mappings between situations, actions and consequences necessary for goal-directed behavior. Our research has investigated the cognitive operations underlying causal inference, developing and testing computational models based on force dynamics (Barbey & Wolff, under revision; 2007, 2006; Wolff et al., 2010) and Bayesian causal models (Sloman et al., 2009; Chaigneau & Barbey, under revision). These frameworks adopt alternative assumptions about the cognitive representations underlying causal inference, with force theory assuming that causation in the mind reflects the way events unfold in the world (i.e., via force dynamics) and causal model theory instead inferring causal relationships from statistical regularities (i.e., encoding the presence/absence of events without regard to the nature of the processes that produced them). These frameworks also motivate alternative neural predictions, with force theory predicting the recruitment of brain regions for the representation and processing of forces (e.g., physical force within motor and somatosensory cortices) and causal model theory predicting engagement of regions involved in the encoding and manipulation of graphical causal models (e.g., visual-spatial regions within occipital and parietal cortex, and areas of lateral PFC involved in statistical reasoning). Our current fMRI research investigates the neural predictions of these models, exploring their role in the representation of physical and social causation (Barbey et al., under revision) and developing an integrative cognitive neuroscience framework for understanding prefrontal contributions to executive control and causal reasoning (Barbey & Patterson, in press; Patterson & Barbey, in press).
Force Theory Simulation Program