Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Wiemer, Katja

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


In science, mechanistic and teleological explanations differ in their account for why a phenomenon occurs. A mechanistic explanation presents events within the phenomenon’s causal history, while a teleological explanation presents the function or benefit of the phenomenon. These explanation types present two different types of causal coherence relations; a cause- consequence relation for mechanistic explanations, and an enabling relationship for teleological explanations. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of the causal connective “because” in inference generation for the relations present in each explanation type. Two first experiments show that readers accept “because” as an appropriate causal connective to convey both cause-consequence and enabling relationships in scientific explanations, while the mediating ideas necessary for making sense of those relations differed between them. A third experiment used an inference verification task to evaluate to what extent reading “because” influenced the inference of those mediating ideas online. Verification time and causal sentence reading time were measured to evaluate whether inference generation is driven more by a fixed schema related to the connective “because” or by the explanatory schema inherent in the context. Verification times did not differ significantly by connective use, suggesting that inferential processing was unaffected by the inclusion of “because”. However, a non-significant trend revealed opposite patterns in verification times for each explanation type when “because” was included. Results are discussed in light of the hypothesized accounts for inference generation in both explanation types, and regarding the processing of scientific explanations generally.


91 pages




Northern Illinois University

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