The effect of evidential impact on perceptual probabilistic reasoning

Mangiarulo, Marta (2019) The effect of evidential impact on perceptual probabilistic reasoning. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

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For decades, works in psychology of thinking and decision making have been reporting suboptimal performance and systematic departures from the axioms of probability theory in people’s probability judgments. In these first works, poor performance was often attributed to people making normatively wrong intuitions because of their limited cognitive resources and lack of statistical skills. Over the last years, studies that considered various Bayesian models of inductive reasoning but also other high and lower-level cognitive processes provided a more optimistic picture by showing that, despite departing from the normative benchmark, people’s reasoning skills lead to adaptive and sound performance in everyday life. Different explanatory accounts for this suboptimal but sound reasoning have been proposed, some being more compelling than others. The present thesis is aimed at exploring one of these accounts that is based on confirmation relations and suggests that human inductive ability might rely more on estimating evidential impact than posterior probability. So far, this account has been applied to classical probabilistic reasoning errors, linguistic and psycholinguistic phenomena and probabilistic inferences with verbal stimuli. In this study, we tried to see whether the implicit estimation of confirmation relations can affect probability judgments also when the link between evidence and hypotheses is operationalized as the arbitrary association between visual features in briefly presented figures. First, we expected participants to consider confirmed hypotheses more probable than corresponding (in terms of posterior probability) disconfirmed ones; second, we expected them to choose the more likely option (i.e. the normatively correct one) more often when it was confirmed by the evidence provided than when it was disconfirmed. Four computer-based experiments were conducted using the same methodology. Experimental stimuli consisted of inductive arguments concerning 40 sets of figures composed of two features with two possible values each. By varying the probabilistic association between the two values of the features, sets were generated to have, for each possible combination of the two features, two arguments with the same posteriors and opposite impacts. In each trial, participants first looked at a set of figures. One of these figures was then randomly drawn. Participants were informed about the value of one feature of the drawn figure (e.g., that it was a “circle”) and had to guess the value of the other feature (“white” vs. “black”). Throughout the four experiments, we used three different combinations of features: color and shape (exp.1: black/white; exp 2: light/dark grey), pattern and shape (exp 3) and type and orientation of line (exp 4). In all four experiments, participants systematically chose the confirmed alternative over the equally probable, but disconfirmed one, and chose the normatively incorrect (i.e. less likely) alternative more often when it was confirmed (vs. disconfirmed) by the evidence provided. These results provided a first empirical evidence of the effect of confirmation relations on probability judgment with perceptual stimuli, but also highlighted a significant influence of the experimental material itself on choice patterns. In fact, in experiments 1 to 3 the obtained results showed that color (or pattern) was a more compelling evidence than shape in determining participants’ choices. The combination of line curvature and orientation used in experiment 4 proved to be the more balanced among those employed in the present research. Only in this last experiment, indeed, the type of evidence did not affect the choice for the confirmed alternative, nor the amount of errors. The results we found supported our experimental claims showing that confirmation relations can affect probability judgments even in absence of any semantic element, but also suggested the existence of a mutual influence between perceptual features and probability judgments. Our experimental results have theoretical as well as applied implications. On a theoretical level, they extend the results coming from works involving verbal and linguistic material to perceptual stimuli with no semantic background. Additionally, they show that high-level relations, which are completely unknown to the subject, affect the way people perceive relations within a visual set of perceptual items. This might have interesting and noteworthy implications for studies on visual cognition, and, on a broader level, contingency learning and stereotypical judgments.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:Cognitive and Brain Sciences
PhD Cycle:31
Subjects:Area 11 - Scienze storiche, filosofiche, pedagogiche e psicologiche > M-PSI/01 PSICOLOGIA GENERALE
Uncontrolled Keywords:probabilistic inference, confirmation relations, reasoning
Repository Staff approval on:10 Apr 2019 11:07

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