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    On the generality and cognitive basis of base-rate neglect

    Stengard, E. and Juslin, P. and Hahn, Ulrike and van den Berg, R. (2022) On the generality and cognitive basis of base-rate neglect. Cognition 226 (105160), ISSN 0010-0277.

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    Base rate neglect refers to people's apparent tendency to underweight or even ignore base rate information when estimating posterior probabilities for events, such as the probability that a person with a positive cancer-test outcome actually does have cancer. While often replicated, almost all evidence for the phenomenon comes from studies that used problems with extremely low base rates, high hit rates, and low false alarm rates. It is currently unclear whether the effect generalizes to reasoning problems outside this “corner” of the entire problem space. Another limitation of previous studies is that they have focused on describing empirical patterns of the effect at the group level and not so much on the underlying strategies and individual differences. Here, we address these two limitations by testing participants on a broader problem space and modeling their responses at a single-participant level. We find that the empirical patterns that have served as evidence for base-rate neglect generalize to a larger problem space, albeit with large individual differences in the extent with which participants “neglect” base rates. In particular, we find a bi-modal distribution consisting of one group of participants who almost entirely ignore the base rate and another group who almost entirely account for it. This heterogeneity is reflected in the cognitive modeling results: participants in the former group were best captured by a linear-additive model, while participants in the latter group were best captured by a Bayesian model. We find little evidence for heuristic models. Altogether, these results suggest that the effect known as “base-rate neglect” generalizes to a large set of reasoning problems, but varies largely across participants and may need a reinterpretation in terms of the underlying cognitive mechanisms.


    Item Type: Article
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Science > School of Psychological Sciences
    Research Centres and Institutes: Cognition, Computation and Modelling, Centre for
    Depositing User: Ulrike Hahn
    Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2023 13:09
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 18:20


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