The effects of heuristics and apophenia on probabilistic choice

Zack W. Ellerby, Richard J. Tunney*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Given a repeated choice between two or more options with independent and identically distributed reward probabilities, overall pay-offs can be maximized by the exclusive selection of the option with the greatest likelihood of reward. The tendency to match response proportions to reward contingencies is suboptimal. nevertheless, this behaviour is well documented. A number of explanatory accounts have been proposed for probability matching. These include failed pattern matching, driven by apophenia, and a heuristic-driven response that can be overruled with sufficient deliberation. We report two experiments that were designed to test the relative effects on choice behaviour of both an intuitive versus strategic approach to the task and belief that there was a predictable pattern in the reward sequence, through a combination of both direct experimental manipulation and post-experimental self-report. Mediation analysis was used to model the pathways of effects. Neither of two attempted experimental manipulations of apophenia, nor self-reported levels of apophenia, had a significant effect on proportions of maximizing choices. However, the use of strategy over intuition proved a consistent predictor of maximizing, across all experimental conditions. A parallel analysis was conducted to assess the effect of controlling for individual variance in perceptions of reward contingencies. Although this analysis suggested that apophenia did increase probability matching in the standard task preparation, this effect was found to result from an unforeseen relationship between self-reported apophenia and perceived reward probabilities. A Win-stay Lose-shift (WSLS) analysis indicated no reliable relationship between WSLS and either intuition or strategy use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)280-295
Number of pages16
JournalAdvances in Cognitive Psychology
Volume13
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/)

Keywords

  • Apophenia
  • Heuristics
  • Judgement under uncertainty
  • Probability matching

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