Consequence-Cause Matching: Looking to the Consequences of Events to Infer Their Causes

50 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2009 Last revised: 14 Jun 2017

See all articles by Robyn A. LeBoeuf

Robyn A. LeBoeuf

Washington University in St. Louis

Michael I. Norton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit

Date Written: August 12, 2011

Abstract

This article documents a bias in people’s causal inferences, showing that people non-normatively consider an event’s consequences when inferring its causes. Across experiments, participants’ inferences about event causes were systematically affected by how similar (in both size and valence) those causes were to event consequences, even when the consequences were objectively uninformative about the causes. For example, people inferred that a product failure (computer crash) had a large cause (widespread computer virus) if it had a large consequence (job loss), but that the identical failure was more likely to have a smaller cause (cooling fan malfunction) if the consequence was small—even though the consequences gave no new information about what caused the crash. This “consequence-cause matching,” which can affect product attitudes, may arise because people are motivated to see the world as predictable and because matching is an accessible schema that helps them to fulfill this motivation.

Keywords: causal reasoning, product failure, causal schema, consumer behavior

Suggested Citation

LeBoeuf, Robyn A. and Norton, Michael I., Consequence-Cause Matching: Looking to the Consequences of Events to Infer Their Causes (August 12, 2011). LeBoeuf, Robyn A., & Norton, Michael I. (2012). Consequence-cause matching: Looking to the consequences of events to infer their causes. Journal of Consumer Research, 39 (1), 128-141. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1457953 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1457953

Robyn A. LeBoeuf (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis ( email )

One Brookings Drive
Campus Box 1133
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

Michael I. Norton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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