Different physical intuitions exist between tasks, not domains


Does human behavior exploit deep and accurate knowledge about how the world works, or does it rely on shallow and often inaccurate heuristics? This fundamental question is rooted in a classic dichotomy in psychology: human intuitions about even simple scenarios can be poor, yet their behaviors can exceed the capabilities of even the most advanced machines. One domain where such a dichotomy has classically been demonstrated is intuitive physics. Here we demonstrate that this dichotomy is rooted in how physical knowledge is measured: extrapolation of ballistic motion is idiosyncratic and erroneous when people draw the trajectories but consistent with accurate physical inferences under uncertainty when people use the same trajectories to catch a ball or release it to hit a target. Our results suggest that the contrast between rich and calibrated versus poor and inaccurate patterns of physical reasoning exists as a result of using different systems of knowledge across tasks, rather than being driven solely by a universal system of knowledge that is inconsistent across physical principles.

Computational Brain and Behavior