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Contingency bias in probability judgement may arise from ambiguity regarding additional causes

, : Contingency bias in probability judgement may arise from ambiguity regarding additional causes. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 66(9): 1675-1686

In laboratory contingency learning tasks, people usually give accurate estimates of the degree of contingency between a cue and an outcome. However, if they are asked to estimate the probability of the outcome in the presence of the cue, they tend to be biased by the probability of the outcome in the absence of the cue. This bias is often attributed to an automatic contingency detection mechanism, which is said to act via an excitatory associative link to activate the outcome representation at the time of testing. We conducted 3 experiments to test alternative accounts of contingency bias. Participants were exposed to the same outcome probability in the presence of the cue, but different outcome probabilities in the absence of the cue. Phrasing the test question in terms of frequency rather than probability and clarifying the test instructions reduced but did not eliminate contingency bias. However, removal of ambiguity regarding the presence of additional causes during the test phase did eliminate contingency bias. We conclude that contingency bias may be due to ambiguity in the test question, and therefore it does not require postulation of a separate associative link-based mechanism.


PMID: 23350876

DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2012.752854

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