Causal reasoning with mental models

Sangeet S. Khemlani, Aron K. Barbey, Philip N. Johnson-Laird

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This paper outlines the model-based theory of causal reasoning. It postulates that the core meanings of causal assertions are deterministic and refer to temporally-ordered sets of possibilities: A causes B to occur means that given A, B occurs, whereas A enables B to occur means that given A, it is possible for B to occur. The paper shows how mental models represent such assertions, and how these models underlie deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning yielding explanations. It reviews evidence both to corroborate the theory and to account for phenomena sometimes taken to be incompatible with it. Finally, it reviews neuroscience evidence indicating that mental models for causal inference are implemented within lateral prefrontal cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number849
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberOctober
StatePublished - Oct 28 2014


  • Causal reasoning
  • Enabling conditions
  • Explanations
  • Lateral prefrontal cortex
  • Mental models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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