ACI Journal Articles


Persuasive Features of Scientific Explanations: Explanatory Schemata of Physical and Psychosocial Phenomena

Document Type


USMA Research Unit Affiliation

Army Cyber Institute

Publication Date



Explanations are central to understanding the causal relationships between entities

within the environment. Instead of examining basic heuristics and schemata that inform

the acceptance or rejection of scientific explanations, recent studies have predominantly

examined complex explanatory models. In the present study, we examined which

essential features of explanatory schemata can account for phenomena that are

attributed to domain-specific knowledge. In two experiments, participants judged the

validity of logical syllogisms and reported confidence in their response. In addition to

validity of the explanations, we manipulated whether scientists or people explained an

animate or inanimate phenomenon using mechanistic (e.g., force, cause) or intentional

explanatory terms (e.g., believes, wants). Results indicate that intentional explanations

were generally considered to be less valid than mechanistic explanations and that

‘scientists’ were relatively more reliable sources of information of inanimate phenomena

whereas ‘people’ were relatively more reliable sources of information of animate

phenomena. Moreover, after controlling for participants’ performance, we found that

they expressed greater overconfidence for valid intentional and invalid mechanistic

explanations suggesting that the effect of belief-bias is greater in these conditions.

Peer Reviewed


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