The causal mind: An affordance-based account of causal engagement

Ivar Kolvoort*, Katrin Schulz, Erik Rietveld

*Corresponding author for this work

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Causal cognition is a core aspect of how we deal with the world; however, existing psychological theories tend not to target intuitive causal engagement that is done in daily life. To fill this gap, we propose an Ecological-Enactive (E-E) affordance-based account of situated causal engagement, that is, causal judgments and perceptions. We develop this account to improve our understanding of this way of dealing with the world, which includes making progress on the causal selection problem, and to extend the scope of embodied cognitive science to causal cognition. We characterize identifying causes as selectively attending to the relevant ecological information to engage with relevant affordances, where these affordances are dependent on individual abilities. Based on this we construe causal engagement as based on a learned skill. Moreover, we argue that to understand judgments of causation as we make them in our daily lives, we need to see them as situated in sociocultural practices. Practices are about doing, and so this view helps us understand why people make these judgments so ubiquitously: to get things done, to provide an effective path to intervening in the world. Ultimately this view on causal engagement allows us to account for individual differences in causal perceptions, judgments, and selections by appealing to differences in learned skills and sociocultural practices.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAdaptive Behavior
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print/First online - Jun 2023


  • affordances
  • Causal cognition
  • causal judgment
  • causal perception
  • causality
  • ecological psychology
  • enactive cognition
  • situated cognition


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