Cognitive Science Speaker Series returns with the psychology of explanation

Woman explaining something to a child, pointing at computer monitor

On Sept. 22, the Cognitive Science Speaker Series returns with a discussion about the psychology of explanation, titled “Explanation: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful,” featuring guest speaker Tania Lombrozo, the Arthur W. Marks ’19 Professor of Psychology at Princeton University.

Headshot of Tania Lombrozo
Tania Lombrozo

Like scientists, children and adults are often motivated to explain the world around them, including why people behave in particular ways, why objects have some properties rather than others and why events unfold as they do. Moreover, people have strong and systematic 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, Lombrozo will present evidence that both children and adults prefer explanations that are simple and have broad scope, consistent with many accounts of explanation from the philosophy of science. The good news is that a preference for simple and broad explanations can sometimes improve learning and support effective inferences. The bad news is that under some conditions, these preferences can systematically lead children and adults astray.

Lombrozo’s research aims to address basic questions about learning, reasoning, and decision-making using the empirical tools of experimental psychology and the conceptual tools of analytic philosophy. Accordingly, much of her work is informed by the philosophy of science, epistemology and moral philosophy alongside cognitive, social and developmental psychology. Beyond her research on the human drive to explain, she studies intuitive beliefs about causation, moral responsibility and the nature of knowledge.

The Cognitive Science Speaker Series is presented by York University’s Department of Philosophy in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. All talks take place on Wednesdays from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. via Zoom. Prior to each talk, the Zoom link will be emailed to all students and faculty from the cognitive science and philosophy departments. Those who want to attend but are not in those departments can email Professor Jacob Beck at from a York email address to request the Zoom link.