Frequency versus probability formats in statistical word problems

Jonathan St B T Evans, Simon J. Handley, Nick Perham, David E. Over, Valerie A. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

114 Citations (Scopus)


Three experiments examined people's ability to incorporate base rate information when judging posterior probabilities. Specifically, we tested the (Cosmides, L., and Tooby, J. (1996). Are humans good intuitive statisticians after all? Rethinking some conclusions from the literature on judgement under uncertainty. Cognition, 58, 1-73) conclusion that people's reasoning appears to follow Bayesian principles when they are presented with information in a frequency format, but not when information is presented as one case probabilities. First, we found that frequency formats were not generally associated with better performance than probability formats unless they were presented in a manner which facilitated construction of a set inclusion mental model. Second, we demonstrated that the use of frequency information may promote biases in the weighting of information. When participants are asked to express their judgements in frequency rather than probability format, they were more likely to produce the base rate as their answer, ignoring diagnostic evidence. Copyright (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-213
Number of pages17
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2000
Externally publishedYes


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