Psychology Faculty Publications


Bayesian reasoning, defined here as the updating of a posterior probability following new information, has historically been problematic for humans. Classic psychology experiments have tested human Bayesian reasoning through the use of word problems and have evaluated each participant’s performance against the normatively correct answer provided by Bayes’ theorem. The standard finding is of generally poor performance. Over the past two decades, though, progress has been made on how to improve Bayesian reasoning. Most notably, research has demonstrated that the use of frequencies in a natural sampling framework—as opposed to single-event probabilities—can improve participants’ Bayesian estimates. Furthermore, pictorial aids and certain individual difference factors also can play significant roles in Bayesian reasoning success. The mechanics of how to build tasks which show these improvements is not under much debate. The explanations for why naturally sampled frequencies and pictures help Bayesian reasoning remain hotly contested, however, with many researchers falling into ingrained “camps” organized around two dominant theoretical perspectives. The present paper evaluates the merits of these theoretical perspectives, including the weight of empirical evidence, theoretical coherence, and predictive power. By these criteria, the ecological rationality approach is clearly better than the heuristics and biases view. Progress in the study of Bayesian reasoning will depend on continued research that honestly, vigorously, and consistently engages across these different theoretical accounts rather than staying “siloed” within one particular perspective. The process of science requires an understanding of competing points of view, with the ultimate goal being integration.

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Frontiers in Psychology


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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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