Identity, causality, and pronoun ambiguity

Eyal Sagi, Lance J. Rips*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


This article looks at the way people determine the antecedent of a pronoun in sentence pairs, such as: Albert invited Ron to dinner. He spent hours cleaning the house. The experiment reported here is motivated by the idea that such judgments depend on reasoning about identity (e.g., the identity of the he who cleaned the house). Because the identity of an individual over time depends on the causal-historical path connecting the stages of the individual, the correct antecedent will also depend on causal connections. The experiment varied how likely it is that the event of the first sentence (e.g., the invitation) would cause the event of the second (the house cleaning) for each of the two individuals (the likelihood that if Albert invited Ron to dinner, this would cause Albert to clean the house, versus cause Ron to clean the house). Decisions about the antecedent followed causal likelihood. A mathematical model of causal identity accounted for most of the key aspects of the data from the individual sentence pairs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)663-680
Number of pages18
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014


  • Ambiguity resolution
  • Anaphora
  • Causal reasoning
  • Causation
  • Identity over time
  • Pronoun resolution
  • Singular concepts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Linguistics and Language


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