Solving probabilistic and statistical problems: a matter of information structure and question form


  • Girotto V
  • Gonzalez Michel

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Is the human mind inherently unable to reason probabilistically, or is it able to do so only when problems tap into a module for reasoning about natural frequencies? We suggest an alternative possibility: naive individuals are able to reason probabilistically when they can rely on a representation of subsets of chances or frequencies. We predicted that naive individuals solve conditional probability problems if they can infer conditional probabilities from the subset relations in their representation of the problems, and if the question put to them makes it easy to consider the appropriate subsets. The results of seven studies corroborated these predictions: when the form of the question and the structure of the problem were framed so as to activate intuitive principles based on subset relations, naive individuals solved problems, whether they were stated in terms of probabilities or frequencies. Otherwise, they failed with both sorts of information. The results contravene the frequentist hypothesis and the evolutionary account of probabilistic reasoning. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

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