Carnegie Mellon University

You Bin Maeng

You Bin MaengMajor: Psychology
Minor: Cognitive Neuroscience
Adviser: David Rakison
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Physical and Psychological Causal Inference in Adults

Previous studies have suggested that infants learn about causal relationships through Bayesian structure learning rather than through formed associations. This view ostensibly garners support from research that has used the blicket detector, which is a machine that lights up and plays music when certain objects are placed on it. However, little is known about the process by which adults reason about physical and psychological causal events and adults’ ability to make a psychological causal link. The aim of my honors thesis is to investigate how adults reason about psychological causal events in a two-part study. The first part of the study will involve examining how CMU undergraduate students reason about physical causal events that use the blicket detector. The second part of the study will examine to what extent adults’ ability to reason about physical causal events corresponds with their ability to reason about psychological causal events; that is, adults will be asked to reason about psychological causal events that use an alien blicket detector, which will perform similar functions as the blicket detector machine. The findings of this research will help explain which type of learning that adults use for causal inferences and demonstrate adults’ capability of constructing psychological causal relationships.


I am originally from Korea and came to the United States alone to study at the age of 10. I started my school life at a boarding school in a small town in California and moved onto high school in a different, yet still small, town in California. After high school, I did not choose to attend college; I took a gap year, a story I would like to share.

After graduation, I decided to take a year off to explore my career options as an aspiring psychologist. I started my year of work at the Seoul Mental Health Center and the Community Center for Elders to get a sense of those living with different life conditions. Helping people fight mental disorders or aiding seniors who had built the world I live in entered me into a world of experiences different from mine. People suffering from illnesses shared that they just sought extra care and love, and reassurance that they were an important part of this world. Likewise, the elders wanted nothing more than to be remembered and appreciated, and feared becoming “unimportant” in society.

When I was making the decision to take a gap year, many people insisted that I thoroughly think over my decision. They were worried that it the gap in my academics would be hard to recover from. And it worried me a bit, too. Yet I embarked on this unconventional journey because I was certain it would let me look beyond the books. Indeed, my year volunteering led me to attain a unique perspective on psychology. While others learn about gerontology through books, I am able to personally reflect on the grandfather who told me stories about his past. If encountered the word “schizophrenia,” I could refer back to the woman who had trouble differentiating the world she was in and the “real” world, but who had gradually recovered with consistent care and support.

All of my high school years and even before, I spent my life dug into books. I wanted to know how it would feel to just enter into the world. My gap year was a truly worthwhile experience, and I gained priceless knowledge. To utilize the extensive set of resources and tools to professionally and more profoundly help those in need, I felt like it was time for me to put my head back into the books, so I enrolled in Carnegie Mellon University the following year.

At Carnegie Mellon, I have gained valuable research experience working as a research assistant in the Infant Cognition Laboratory. I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity to carry on my research interests, which will bring an innovative insight on psychological causal reasoning of adults.