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There is little consensus regarding the circumstances in which people spontaneously generate causal inferences, and in particular whether they generate inferences about the causal antecedents or the causal consequences of events. We tested whether people systematically infer causal antecedents or causal consequences to minimal social scenarios by using a continuation methodology. People overwhelmingly produced causal antecedent continuations for descriptions of interpersonal events (John hugged Mary), but causal consequence continuations to descriptions of transfer events (John gave a book to Mary). This demonstrates that there is no global cognitive style, but rather inference generation is crucially tied to the input. Further studies examined the role of event unusualness, number of participators, and verb-type on the likelihood of producing a causal antecedent or causal consequence inference. We conclude that inferences are critically guided by the specific verb used. © 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Publication Date





918 - 932