Ginnobili, S., Olmos, A.S. Empirical assumptions behind the violation of expectation experiments in human and non-human animals. HPLS 43, 106 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40656-021-00459-7
One of the most widely used procedures applied to non-human animals or pre-linguistic humans is the “violation of expectation paradigm”. Curiously there is almost no discussion in the philosophical literature about it. Our objective will be to provide a first approach to the meta-theoretical nature of the assumptions behind the procedure that appeals to the violation of expectation and to extract some consequences. We show that behind them exists an empirical principle that affirms that the violation of the expectation of certain mental rules generates surprise. We then proceeded to discuss the nature of these “mental rules”. We show that, as is often the case with theoretical concepts proposed by theories, they do not have a fixed interpretation. This will allow us to show that the usual relationship found in the developmental psychology literature between this experimental paradigm and cognitive approaches (which interpret experimental results in terms of higher-level mental activities) is not necessary. Finally, we relate this experimental design with the mark test and the inequity aversion test and discuss the possible ampliation of the application of the empirical principle of violation of expectation.
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