Why Can Only 24% Solve Bayesian Reasoning Problems in Natural Frequencies: Frequency Phobia in Spite of Probability Blindness

Frontiers in Psychology 9:375246 (2018)
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For more than 20 years, research has proven the beneficial effect of natural frequencies when it comes to solving Bayesian reasoning tasks (Gigerenzer & Hoffrage, 1995). In a recent meta-analysis, McDowell & Jacobs (2017) showed that presenting a task in natural frequency format increases performance rates to 24% compared to only 4% when the same task is presented in probability format. Nevertheless, on average three quarters of participants in their meta-analysis failed to obtain the correct solution for such a task in frequency format. In this paper, we present an empirical study on what participants typically do wrong when confronted with natural frequencies. We found that many of them did not actually use natural frequencies for their calculations, but translated them back into complicated probabilities instead. This switch from the intuitive presentation format to a less intuitive calculation format will be discussed within the framework of psychological theories (e.g., the Einstellung effect).



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