Using Story-Based Causal Diagrams to Analyze Disagreements About Complex Events

Brian P. Shapiro, Paul Van Den Broek, Charles R Fletcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


People often disagree about the causes of complex events. Previous research has shown that disagreement often results from cognitive and pragmatic constraints that govern people's tendency to attribute outcomes to partial rather than complete causes. This article applies the Trabasso, van den Broek, and Suh (1989) story-based procedures to a narrative of the 1987 stock market crash. The content and structure of the resulting causal diagrams are then used to analyze some opposing causal explanations that were offered by different investigative commissions. The diagrams reveal that some major disagreements involved conflicting interpretations of the crash's multiple indirect and psychological causes. The diagrams also show that some causal explanations were incomplete and implausible because they ignored or contradicted relevant events and causal relations. Implications for discourse comprehension research are discussed, and the advantages of using causal diagrams to mitigate constraints on causal comprehension and explanation are explored.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-77
Number of pages27
JournalDiscourse Processes
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 1995


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