Broken physics: A conjunction fallacy effect in intuitive physical reasoning


One remarkable aspect of human cognition is our ability to reason about physical events. This paper provides novel evidence that intuitive physics is subject to a peculiar error, the classic conjunction fallacy, where people rate the probability of a conjunction of two events as more likely than one constituent (a logical impossibility). Participants viewed videos of physical scenarios and judged the probability that either a single event or a conjunction of two events would occur. In Experiment 1 (n = 60), participants consistently rated conjunction events as more likely than single events for the same scenes. Experiment 2 (n = 180) extends these results to rule out several alternative explanations. Experiment 3 (n = 100) generalizes the finding to different scenes. This demonstration of conjunction errors contradicts claims that such errors shouldn’t appear in intuitive physics and presents a serious challenge to current theories of mental simulation in physical reasoning.

Psychological Science