Models, Inference, and Decisions

What We Do

Recent research in cognitive and behavioral sciences is increasingly illuminating the basic mechanisms of human reasoning and cognition, as well as their limitations and systematic deviations from normative theories of rational inference and decision-making. It also raises interesting questions concerning the foundations and methods of different scientific disciplines, and the analysis of scientific reasoning in general.

This research line puts together theoretical and formal models of inference and decision-making with empirical approaches to the study of human reasoning and cognition. The aim is twofold: to better understand, and possibly improve, how people reason and make choices in different contexts, both in ordinary life and in science; and to clarify and strengthen the methodology and foundations of cognitive, behavioral, and social sciences.

Topics we work, or plan to work, on include:

  • Formal epistemology and philosophy of science: Bayesian confirmation theory, truthlikeness theory, cognitive decision theory.

  • Philosophy of cognitive, behavioral, and social sciences, including neuroscience, (behavioral) economics, medicine, forensic science, statistics, machine learning, history, textual criticism, etc.

  • Philosophical issues in the foundations, epistemology, and the methodology of science: e.g., reverse inference, abduction, analogy, simplicity, replicability, explainability, etc.

  • Normative and descriptive models of reasoning, rational inference and decision-making: heuristics and biases, ecological rationality, nudge theory.

  • Analysis of expert judgment and reasoning, especially clinical and legal reasoning.

  • Inferences and fallacies in moral and social dilemmas.

  • Neural bases of different kinds of reasoning (deductive, inductive, abductive, etc.).

ONGOING PROJECTS

  • Rationality as truth approximation

  • Reasoning, uncertainty, and expert judgment

    • NUTS (Nudge Unit Toscana per la Salute), joint IMT - ARS Toscana initiative

  • Rationality, social interaction, and the human sciences

Who We Are

GUSTAVO CEVOLANI
Principal InvestigatorAssociate Professor, PhDScholar, ResearchGate, Personal page
DAVIDE CORACI
PhD Student
LUCA POLONIO
Assistant Professor, PhDScholar, ResearchGate,

ALESSANDRO DEMICHELIS
PhD Student
CAMILLA COLOMBO
Post Doc Research Fellow, PhD

What We Publish

A partial consequence account of truthlikeness

Festa, R.; Cevolani, G.Synthese, 2020. DOI: 10.1007/s11229-018-01947-3
Popper’s original definition of truthlikeness relied on a central insight: that truthlikeness combines truth and information, in the sense that a proposition is closer to the truth the more true consequences and the less false consequences it entails. As intuitively compelling as this definition may be, it is untenable, as proved long ago; still, one can arguably rely on Popper’s intuition to provide an adequate account of truthlikeness. To this aim, we mobilize some classical work on partial entailment in defining a new measure of truthlikeness which satisfies a number of desiderata. The resulting account has some interesting and surprising connections with other accounts on the market, thus shedding new light on current attempts of systematizing different approaches to verisimilitude.

A Millian Look at the Logic of Clinical Trials

Festa, R.; Cevolani, G.; Tambolo, L.Uncertainty in Pharmacology, 2020. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-29179-2_9
The use of a certain drug or treatment in the cure of a disease or condition should be based on appropriate tests of the hypothesis that said drug or treatment is efficacious in the cure of the disease or condition at hand. In this paper, we aim at elucidating how such “efficacy hypotheses” are tested and evaluated, especially in clinical trials. More precisely, we shall suggest that the principles governing the assessment of efficacy hypotheses, and, more generally, hypotheses of statistical causality, are provided by an appropriate statistical version of such a venerable procedure as the method of difference put forward by John Stuart Mill.

Generalized information theory meets human cognition

Crupi, V.; Nelson, J.; Meder, B.; Cevolani, G.; and Tentori, K. Cognitive Science, 2018. DOI: 10.1111/cogs.12613
Searching for information is critical in many situations. In medicine, for instance, careful choice of a diagnostic test can help narrow down the range of plausible diseases that the patient might have. In a probabilistic framework, test selection is often modeled by assuming that people's goal is to reduce uncertainty about possible states of the world. In cognitive science, psychology, and medical decision making, Shannon entropy is the most prominent and most widely used model to formalize probabilistic uncertainty and the reduction thereof. However, a variety of alternative entropy metrics (Hartley, Quadratic, Tsallis, Rényi, and more) are popular in the social and the natural sciences, computer science, and philosophy of science. Particular entropy measures have been predominant in particular research areas, and it is often an open issue whether these divergences emerge from different theoretical and practical goals or are merely due to historical accident. Cutting across disciplinary boundaries, we show that several entropy and entropy reduction measures arise as special cases in a unified formalism, the Sharma–Mittal framework. Using mathematical results, computer simulations, and analyses of published behavioral data, we discuss four key questions: How do various entropy models relate to each other? What insights can be obtained by considering diverse entropy models within a unified framework? What is the psychological plausibility of different entropy models? What new questions and insights for research on human information acquisition follow? Our work provides several new pathways for theoretical and empirical research, reconciling apparently conflicting approaches and empirical findings within a comprehensive and unified information‐theoretic formalism.

Fallibilism, verisimilitude, and the Preface Paradox

Cevolani, G.Erkenntnis, 2017. DOI: 10.1007/s10670-016-9811-0
The Preface Paradox apparently shows that it is sometimes rational to believe logically incompatible propositions. In this paper, I propose a way out of the paradox based on the ideas of fallibilism and verisimilitude (or truthlikeness). More precisely, I defend the view that a rational inquirer can fallibly believe or accept a proposition which is false, or likely false, but verisimilar; and I argue that this view makes the Preface Paradox disappear. Some possible objections to my proposal, and an alternative view of fallible belief, are briefly discussed in the final part of the paper.

Our Collaborations

  • Vincenzo Crupi - University of Turin

  • Jan Sprenger - University of Turin

  • Carlo Martini - Università Vita Salute San Raffaele (Milan)

  • Giovanni Valente - Politecnico di Milano

Our Talks

  • G. Cevolani, D. Coraci - Reverse Inference, Bayesian Confirmation, and the Neuroscience of Moral Reasoning’ . 2020 International Neuroethics Society Conference, online, October 22-23 2020.

  • G. Cevolani, C. Lucifora - Ethical and Cognitive Challenges in the COVID-19 Emergency. 2020 International Neuroethics Society Conference, online, October 22-23 2020.

  • G. Cevolani, E. Peruzzi - Rationality, idealized models, and truth approximation. SIE 2020 Conference, online, October 21, 2020.

  • D. Coraci - Theories of ad hoc categories: bridging the gap, ECAP10 Virtual Conference, Uthrecht, August 17, 2020.

  • D. Coraci - An integrated theory on the construction of ad hoc concepts, AISC Conference 2019, University Roma Tre, Rome, December 13, 2020.