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Reducing the illusion of control when an action is followed by an undesired outcome

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Abstract

The illusion of control is the belief that our behavior produces an effect that is actually independent from it. This illusion is often at the core of superstitious and pseudoscientific thinking. Although recent research has proposed several evidence-based strategies that can be used to reduce the illusion, the majority of these experiments have involved positive illusions—that is, those in which the potential outcomes are desired (e.g., recovery from illness or earning points). By contrast, many real-life superstitions and pseudosciences are tied to negative illusions—that is, those in which the potential consequences are undesired. Examples are walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, or sitting in row 13, all of which are supposed to generate bad luck. Thus, the question is whether the available evidence on how to reduce positive illusions would also apply to situations in which the outcomes are undesired. We conducted an experiment in which participants were exposed to undesired outcomes that occurred independently of their behavior. One strategy that has been shown to reduce positive illusions consists of warning people that the outcomes might have alternative causes, other than the participants’ actions, and telling them that the best they can do to find out whether an alternative cause is at work is to act on only about 50 % of the trials. When we gave our participants this information in an experiment in which the outcomes were undesired, their illusion was enhanced rather than reduced, contrary to what happens when the outcome is desired. This suggests that the strategies that reduce positive illusions may work in just the opposite way when the outcome is undesired.

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... especially likely to occur when a game of chance is approached as if it were a game of skill; i.e., when people erroneously attribute potential outcomes to one's abilities rather than to external factors or luck (Langer, 1975;Langer & Roth, 1975;Wohl & Enzle, 2002). Other studies have suggested that the illusion of control is caused by a process of associative or reinforcement learning, in which one's action is accidentally paired with a specific outcome (Blanco & Matute, 2015;Matute, 1996;Matute & Blanco, 2014). For instance, by using a random reinforcement schedule (i.e. ...
... For instance, by using a random reinforcement schedule (i.e. sounds or lights were presented at random intervals) it was found that many participants developed a particular strategy for responding (e.g., pressing computer buttons in a specific order), and also reported feelings of control over the outcome (Blanco & Matute, 2015;Matute, 1996;Matute & Blanco, 2014). ...
Article
Prior work shows that children can make inductive inferences about objects based on their labels rather than their appearance (Gelman, 2003). A separate line of research shows that children's trust in a speaker's label is selective. Children accept labels from a reliable speaker over an unreliable speaker (e.g., Koenig & Harris, 2005). In the current paper, we tested whether 3- and 5-year-old children attend to speaker reliability when they make inductive inferences about a non-obvious property of a novel artifact based on its label. Children were more likely to use a reliable speaker's label than an unreliable speaker's label when making inductive inferences. Thus, children not only prefer to learn from reliable speakers, they are also more likely to use information from reliable speakers as the basis for future inferences. The findings are discussed in light of the debate between a similarity-driven and a label-driven approach to inductive inferences.
... In positive valence illusions (when the outcome is desirable), the higher the p(O), the stronger the illusion; it is not surprising that pseudoscientific remedies are used to treat high rate of spontaneous relief diseases, such as back pain. An important question is whether changes in p(O) that reduce positive illusions can be used to reduce negative ones (Matute & Blanco, 2014). In a paradigm to study the illusion in both desirable and undesirable outcomes with equivalent p (O), it was demonstrated that the occurrence of a desired outcome is equivalent to the non-occurrence of an undesired outcome . ...
... By contrast, ungrounded beliefs, such as superstitions Fig. 5 Line plots representing sequences of the mean values of judgments of control in blocks (above) and expected reward mean values (V) after simulations for all trials using the Rescorla-Wagner model (below), for both groups by probabilities of the outcome. Note that the asymptotic patterns observed in the judgments resemble the sequences of V and pseudosciences, imply that financial, medical and political decisions are often based on illusions, individually and socially (Matute & Blanco, 2014). This study aims to contribute to the analysis of the factors that modulate illusion of control. ...
Article
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Individuals interpret themselves as causal agents when executing an action to achieve an outcome, even when action and outcome are independent. How can illusion of control be managed? Once established, does it decay? This study aimed to analyze the effects of valence, probability of the outcome [p(O)] and probability of the actions performed by the participant [p(A)], on the magnitude of judgments of control and corresponding associative measures (including Rescorla–Wagner’s, Probabilistic Contrast, and Cheng’s Power Probabilistic Contrast models). A traffic light was presented on a computer screen to 81 participants who tried to control the green or red lights by pressing the spacebar, after instructions describing a productive or a preventive scenario. There were 4 blocks of 50 trials under all of 4 different p(O)s in random order (0.10, 0.30, 0.70, and 0.90). Judgments were assessed in a bidimensional scale. The 2 × 4 × 4 mixed experimental design was analyzed through General Linear Models, including factor group (between-subject valence), and block and p(O) (within subjects). There was a small effect of group and a large and direct effect of p(O) on judgments. Illusion was reported by 66% of the sample and was positive in the productive group. The oscillation of p(O) produced stronger illusions; decreasing p(O)s produced nil or negative illusions. Only Rescorla–Wagner’s could model causality properly. The reasons why p(A) and the other models could not generate significant results are discussed. The results help to comprehend the importance of keeping moderate illusions in productive and preventive scenarios.
... That is, half of our participants were exposed to a situation where potential causal relationship was framed in positive terms, whereas for the other half the situation was framed in negative terms. Most research in causal illusions has used positive outcomes (but see Matute and Blanco, 2014;, although the rationale presented earlier should in principle apply also to negative outcomes, thus reversing the predicted results in this condition. The outcome-valence manipulation allows us to explore potential differences in the magnitude of the effect between the two types of scenario: perhaps the previous-belief impact on the causal illusion would be stronger when it is driven by a positive, compared to a negative, belief, but it could be the opposite, or even they could be similarly strong (but note that we always predict that the effects in positive-vs. ...
... In the literature of causal illusions, outcomes are usually of positive valence (e.g., something that the participant aims to produce, such as healing fictitious patients), and relatively few studies use negatively framed outcomes. Perhaps the mechanism that produces the illusion is dependent on, or sensitive to, the valence of the outcome (positive/negative), so that it becomes stronger in some conditions than in others, as suggested by previous research (Aeschleman et al., 2003;Bloom et al., 2007;Matute and Blanco, 2014). This might also explain why the literature covers mostly the setting that seemingly produces stronger effects (i.e., positive outcome). ...
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The causal illusion is a cognitive bias that results in the perception of causality where there is no supporting evidence. We show that people selectively exhibit the bias, especially in those situations where it favors their current worldview as revealed by their political orientation. In our two experiments (one conducted in Spain and one conducted in the United Kingdom), participants who self-positioned themselves on the ideological left formed the illusion that a left-wing ruling party was more successful in improving city indicators than a right-wing party, while participants on the ideological right tended to show the opposite pattern. In sum, despite the fact that the same information was presented to all participants, people developed the causal illusion bias selectively, providing very different interpretations that aligned with their previous attitudes. This result occurs in situations where participants inspect the relationship between the government’s actions and positive outcomes (improving city indicators) but not when the outcomes are negative (worsening city indicators).
... providing us with judgement of control [19,20], in accordance with previous founding that superstition satisfies the needs of managing psychosocial stress [2,15] ...
... However, the participants perceived higher control and felt more confident in finding out a pattern to obtain a reward in the choice compared to no-choice condition, which was mirrored by the SPN patterns. On the other hand, one recent study found that the illusion of control was reduced when individuals' actions led to undesirable outcomes (Matute and Blanco, 2014). It is thus possible that in the present study the illusion of control was elicited when reward probability was relatively higher, but disappeared when reward probability was lower. ...
Article
Previous research found that the neural substrates underlying perceived control highly overlap those of reward system, especially during reward anticipation stage. The current event-related potential study examined whether the experience of choice by which individuals exercise control is modulated by reward probability during reward anticipation stage as indexed by the stimulus-preceding negativity (SPN). Thirty participants performed a cued gambling task during which choices could be made either by themselves (a choice condition) or by a computer (a no-choice condition) with three levels of reward probability (low, medium, and high) while their EEG was recording. As expected, the participants perceived higher control during the choice compared to no-choice condition. Correspondingly, the SPN was enhanced in the choice condition than the no-choice condition. Critically, the SPN choice effect was present when reward probability was high and medium, but was diminished when reward probability was low. These findings suggest that the perceived control as exercised by choice is associated with reward anticipation, which may be sensitive to the fundamental properties of reward.
... Understanding the interplay between emotions and erroneous cognitions on the decision making process would further advance our understanding of gambling behaviors in uncertain contexts. Furthermore, it would be interesting to see if the illusion of control reduces followed by an undesired outcome (Matute and Blanco 2014). If most of the predictions in the first round matches were incorrect, do inaccurate predictions reduce illusions? ...
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Over 100 million people are estimated to take part in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Championship bracket contests. However, relatively little is known about consumer behavior in skill-based gaming situations (e.g., sports betting). In two studies, we investigated the overestimation phenomenon in the "March Madness" context. In Study 1 (N = 81), we found that individuals who were allowed to make their own predictions were significantly more optimistic about their performance than individuals who did not make their own selections. In Study 2 (N = 197), all subjects participated in a mock competitive bracket pool. In line with the illusion of control theory, results showed that higher self-ratings of probability of winning significantly increased maximum willingness to wager but did not improve actual performance. Lastly, perceptions of high probability of winning significantly contributed to consumers' enjoyment and willingness to participate in a bracket pool in the future.
... Evidence shows that human causal judgments are sensitive to contingency (e.g., Jenkins and Ward, 1965;Allan and Jenkins, 1983;Shanks and Dickinson, 1987). However, a number of studies present data showing that under certain situations deviations from normatively expected assessment are systematic (e.g., Alloy and Abramson, 1979;Allan and Jenkins, 1983;Kao and Wasserman, 1993;Hannah and Beneteau, 2009;Blanco et al., 2011;Matute et al., 2011;Matute and Blanco, 2014). In order to explain those deviations some researchers have suggested that people do not weigh the different cells of the contingency matrix shown in Table 1 in the same manner ( e.g., Wasserman et al., 1990;Kao and Wasserman, 1993;Anderson and Sheu, 1995;White, 2009). ...
Article
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It is generally assumed that the way people assess the relationship between a cause and an outcome is closely related to the actual evidence existing about the co-occurrence of these events. However, people’s estimations are often biased, and this usually translates into illusions of causality. Some have suggested that such illusions could be the result of previous knowledge-based expectations. In the present research we explored the role that previous knowledge has in the development of illusions of causality. We propose that previous knowledge influences the assessment of causality by influencing the decisions about responding or not (i.e., presence or absence of the potential cause), which biases the information people are exposed to, and this in turn produces illusions congruent with such biased information. In a non-contingent situation in which participants decided whether the potential cause was present or absent (Experiment 1), the influence of expectations on participants’ judgments was mediated by the probability of occurrence of the potential cause (determined by participants’ responses). However, in an identical situation, except that the participants were not allowed to decide the occurrence of the potential cause, only the probability of the cause was significant, not the expectations or the interaction. Together, these results support our hypothesis that knowledge-based expectations affect the development of causal illusions by the mediation of behavior, which biases the information received.
... To test this view, Matute and Blanco (2014) used the same instructions shown to reduce illusions in appetitive conditions in punishment-like conditions. The result was that asking people to reduce the probability of the cause (i.e., their actions) while warning them about potential alternative causes of the outcome, increased, rather than reduced, the illusion. ...
Article
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Illusions of causality occur when people develop the belief that there is a causal connection between two events that are actually unrelated. Such illusions have been proposed to underlie pseudoscience and superstitious thinking, sometimes leading to disastrous consequences in relation to critical life areas, such as health, finances, and wellbeing. Like optical illusions, they can occur for anyone under well-known conditions. Scientific thinking is the best possible safeguard against them, but it does not come intuitively and needs to be taught. Teaching how to think scientifically should benefit from better understanding of the illusion of causality. In this article, we review experiments that our group has conducted on the illusion of causality during the last 20 years. We discuss how research on the illusion of causality can contribute to the teaching of scientific thinking and how scientific thinking can reduce illusion.
... Although children in the differentially successful conditions of Studies 1 to 3 found the hidden object on approximately 2 of the 4 familiarization trials, on average, that featured the unhelpful informant, there was some variability in that 1 child in this condition never found the hidden object on any familiarization trial featuring the unhelpful informant (i.e., was very unlucky) and 4 children found it on all 4 familiarization trials (i.e., were very lucky). Importantly, the relative number of successes and failures that individuals experience can affect their sense of control (Matute & Blanco, 2014;Rudski, Lischner, & Albert, 1999;van Elk et al., 2015). ...
Article
A number of studies have shown that preschoolers make inferences about potential informants based on the informants’ past behavior, selectively trusting an informant who has been helpful in the past, for example, over one who has been unhelpful. Here we used a hiding game to show that 4- and 5-year-olds’ selective trust can also be influenced by inferences they make about their own abilities. Children do not prefer a previously helpful informant over a previously unhelpful one when informant helpfulness is decoupled from children’s success in finding hidden objects (Studies 1 and 3). Indeed, children do not seem to track informant helpfulness when their success at finding hidden objects has never depended on it (Study 2). A single failure to find a hidden object when offered information by the unhelpful informant can, however, lead them to selectively trust the previously helpful one later (Study 4). Children’s selective trust is based not only on differences between informants but also on their sense of illusory control—their inferences about whether they need assistance from those informants in the first place.
... Yet, the participants were able to identify the nature of the sensation (i.e., tactile) from the hand that was contralateral to the sonication. Due to the subtle and often unusual sensations (such as transient tingling and numbing sensations that disappear quickly upon each stimulatory events), unbiased characterization of the tactile sensations still poses as a challenging task [47]. More objective measures that are synchronized with the sonication timing, supported by the detection and characterization of the sensory evoked EEG potentials [20] in conjunction with randomized stimulation timing, may be used to strengthen the reliability of our findings. ...
Article
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Background Transcranial focused ultrasound (FUS) is gaining momentum as a novel non-invasive brain stimulation method, with promising potential for superior spatial resolution and depth penetration compared to transcranial magnetic stimulation or transcranial direct current stimulation. We examined the presence of tactile sensations elicited by FUS stimulation of two separate brain regions in humans—the primary (SI) and secondary (SII) somatosensory areas of the hand, as guided by individual-specific functional magnetic resonance imaging data. ResultsUnder image-guidance, acoustic stimulations were delivered to the SI and SII areas either separately or simultaneously. The SII areas were divided into sub-regions that are activated by four types of external tactile sensations to the palmar side of the right hand—vibrotactile, pressure, warmth, and coolness. Across the stimulation conditions (SI only, SII only, SI and SII simultaneously), participants reported various types of tactile sensations that arose from the hand contralateral to the stimulation, such as the palm/back of the hand or as single/neighboring fingers. The type of tactile sensations did not match the sensations that are associated with specific sub-regions in the SII. The neuro-stimulatory effects of FUS were transient and reversible, and the procedure did not cause any adverse changes or discomforts in the subject’s mental/physical status. Conclusions The use of multiple FUS transducers allowed for simultaneous stimulation of the SI/SII in the same hemisphere and elicited various tactile sensations in the absence of any external sensory stimuli. Stimulation of the SII area alone could also induce perception of tactile sensations. The ability to stimulate multiple brain areas in a spatially restricted fashion can be used to study causal relationships between regional brain activities and their cognitive/behavioral outcomes.
... The illusion of control seems to be quite pervasive of human behavior and hard to be eliminated also in adults, as demonstrated by [22]: their participants were exposed to undesired outcomes that occurred independently of their behavior, and they were warned that the outcomes might have alternative causes, other than the participants' actions, a strategy that has been shown to reduce positive illusions. However, when participants received this information in an experiment in which the outcomes were undesired, their illusion was enhanced rather than reduced. ...
Article
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Background Decision making is a complex psychological process driven by emotions. Among the most unpleasant ones are the situations when the obtained outcome is not the one expected. This emotional experience is influenced by sense of agency, i.e. the feeling that we voluntarily control our actions and, through them, events in the world. Negative counterfactual emotions as disappointment have been marginally analyzed in children’s decision-making, and the study of children’s sense of agency could help to understand them. Objective To evaluate during childhood the valence of disappointment in decision making in relation to the possibility of choosing or not. Method 107 children (age range 7-10 years) rated their emotions before and after discovering the outcome, in two experimental conditions: choice condition, where the child could decide which of the two remaining tickets to choose in order to win some candies, and no choice condition, where the child could not decide as only one ticket was left. Results The self-attribution of a positive emotional state was significantly higher in the choice condition than in the no choice condition, so the possibility to pick up the ticket made children happier in general, by promoting an “illusion of control”, which is absent in the no choice condition. Then, after discovering the bad outcome, the emotions collapse, settling at substantially similar values. Conclusion Children have experienced a sense of agency for their choice, thus leading to an illusion of control for the decision process and to the so-called “wishful thinking”.
... Illusion of control can be detrimental to decision-making as a harmful type of ungrounded belief (Matute & Blanco, 2014) that leads to needlessly risky behaviors (Fenton-O'Creevy et al., 2003) or a lack of protection against risks (Thompson et al., 1996). In entrepreneurship, illusion of control decreases perceived risk during opportunity evaluation, thus inflating the attractiveness of opportunities (Keh et al., 2002). ...
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The disconnect between the effectuation literature and the cognitive bias research creates artificial boundaries to inhibit the development of a more integrated understanding of decision-making in entrepreneurship. We analyze the effect of effectuation vis a vis on the biases of overconfidence and illusion of control. We test the effect in both a field survey with entrepreneurs and an experiment. Unraveling the patterns of relationships between effectuation and biases helps ground the burgeoning effectuation theory to more established cognitive science theories and advance the scholarly understanding of entrepreneurial decision-making.
... Illusion of control can be detrimental to decision-making as a harmful type of ungrounded belief (Matute & Blanco, 2014) that leads to needlessly risky behaviors (Fenton-O'Creevy et al., 2003) or a lack of protection against risks (Thompson et al., 1996). In entrepreneurship, illusion of control decreases perceived risk during opportunity evaluation, thus inflating the attractiveness of opportunities (Keh et al., 2002). ...
... The probability with which the desired outcome occurs, p(O), has a strong and direct effect on illusion, explaining why pseudoscientific remedies are still used to treat diseases with a high rate of spontaneous relief, such as back pain. Studies also found that illusion persisted after 200 experimental trials (divided along with four blocks under different p(O)s) and that different valences of scenario (i.e., productive or preventive goals) produce the same magnitude on judgments of control (Blanco & Matute, 2015;Matute & Blanco, 2014;Simões, 2019;Simões et al., 2019). ...
Article
Illusion of control (IOC) is a bias in the judgment of personal success with implications to learning theories and health policies; some important questions in the investigation of IOC may be related to traditional measures in the field, namely self-assessment using Likert scales about the sense of control. Statistical process control (SPC) and Shewhart charts are methods developed to monitor and control industrial processes, never applied in psychological studies before. The present two studies investigated the use of the technique of Shewhart charts in the analysis of IOC. The purpose was to explore the use of SPC and Shewhart charts in the analysis of data sequences from psychological experiments; the objective was to analyze the results of reaction time (RT) data sequences plotted in SPC charts, in comparison with self-assessment judgments from an IOC task. Participants were 63 undergraduate students (Study 1) and 103 mine workers (Study 2) instructed to try to control a traffic light on a computer by pressing or not the keyboard. Higher probabilities of the successful outcome generated judgments of illusion and shifts (due to cognitive activity) in the charts of RT; lower probabilities resulted in null illusion and RT presented a random and stable profile. Patterns for different groups emerged in Shewhart charts. SPC can contribute to the analysis of the behavior of sequences of data in psychological studies, so that the charts indicate changes and patterns not detected by traditional ANOVA and other linear models.
Thesis
Si près d’un français sur deux joue au moins une fois par an, on remarque spécifiquement, entre 2010 et 2014, une augmentation de 11,5% du nombre de joueurs parmi les 45-75 ans (Observatoire Des Jeux [ODJ], 2015). Les aînés de 55 à 64 ans sont d’ailleurs les premiers consommateurs de jeux de hasard et d’argent (Institut National de la Statistique et des Etudes Economiques [INSEE], 2016). Peu d’auteurs ont toutefois investigué la question du vieillissement des joueurs dans les JHA, impliquant un manque de données empiriques conséquent (Tse et al., 2012). Pourtant, les jeux de hasard et d’argent (JHA) font l’objet d’un domaine d’étude qui connaît un essor important depuis les années 2000. En plus d'une grande quantité de travaux sur la population générale, de nombreuses recherches ont porté sur les adolescents et les jeunes, considérés comme une population vulnérable (Kairouz et al., 2013). Vulnérables eux aussi (Subramaniam et al. 2015 ; Tse et al. 2012 ; Wainstein et al. 2008), les aînés constituent une population préoccupante en raison de leur exposition à la fois à des offres de jeu de plus en plus abondantes et à de puissants facteurs de risque spécifiques à l'âge. En l’absence de référents théoriques permettant d’appréhender le renouvellement des conduites de jeu des aînés, deux facteurs déterminants ont été convoqués dans cette thèse : l’illusion de contrôle et la prise de risque. Concept polysémique, l'illusion de contrôle demeure à ce jour encore discutable, en termes de définition et de mesure, malgré le grand nombre d’études l’ayant examiné (Masuda, Sakagami, & Hirota, 2002). Cette thèse a ainsi poursuivi un double objectif : élaborer et valider une échelle multidimensionnelle de l’illusion de contrôle dont le format matriciel (Bonnel, 2016) met en exergue les valences affectives positives et négatives ; identifier les mécanismes cognitifs spécifiques à l'âge qui sous-tendent le comportement de jeu dans le vieillissement normal. Les perspectives temporelles (Zimbardo & Boyd, 1999) constituant par ailleurs un bon indicateur des comportements à risque dans un certain nombre de domaines (e.g., santé, environnement), les relations entre âge, perspectives temporelles (PT), illusion de contrôle et prise de risque ont été interrogées. Au bilan, les résultats suggèrent que les aînés constituent une population spécifique en termes de cognitions et de comportements liés au jeu, sous certaines conditions. L'inclusion des PT dans les évaluations des comportements à risque permettrait de développer des mesures préventives sur mesure, destinées à empêcher ou diminuer le risque que les aînés développent un problème de jeu, dont les conséquences sont plus délétères pour cette population.
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Studies of people's beliefs about how much they control events have shown that people often overestimate the extent to which the result depends on their own behavior. The purpose of this study is to test the assumption of reducing the illusion of control by using a causal question in desirable and undesirable results. The influence of the causal question on the size of the illusion of control, measured by the self-esteem of the subjects, was not found. Keywords: cognitive distortions, illusion of control.
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Recent research has shown superstitious behaviour and illusion of control in human subjects exposed to the negative reinforcement conditions that are traditionally assumed to lead to the opposite outcome (i.e. learned helplessness). The experiments reported in this paper test the generality of these effects in two different tasks and under different conditions of percentage (75% vs. 25%) and distribution (random vs. last-trials) of negative reinforcement (escape from uncontrollable noise). All three experiments obtained superstitious behaviour and illusion of control and question the generality of learned helplessness as a consequence of exposing humans to uncontrollable outcomes.
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Depressive realism consists of the lower personal control over uncontrollable events perceived by depressed as compared to nondepressed individuals. In this article, we propose that the realism of depressed individuals is caused not by an increased accuracy in perception, but by their more comprehensive exposure to the actual environmental contingencies, which in turn is due to their more pas-sive pattern of responding. To test this hypothesis, dysphoric and nondysphoric participants were exposed to an uncontrollable task and both their probability of responding and their judgment of control were assessed. As was expected, higher levels of depression correlated negatively with probability of responding and with the illusion of control. Implications for a therapy of depression are discussed.
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Several classic studies have concluded that the accuracy of identifying uncontrollable situations depends heavily on depressive mood. Nondepressed participants tend to exhibit an optimistic illusion of control, whereas depressed participants tend to better detect a lack of control. Recently, we suggested that the different activity levels (measured as the probability of responding during a contingency learning task) exhibited by depressed and nondepressed individuals is partly responsible for this effect. The two studies presented in this paper provide further support for this mediational hypothesis, in which mood is the distal cause of the illusion of control operating through activity level, the proximal cause. In Study 1, the probability of responding, P(R), was found to be a mediator variable between the depressive symptoms and the judgments of control. In Study 2, we intervened directly on the mediator variable: The P(R) for both depressed and nondepressed participants was manipulated through instructions. Our results confirm that P(R) manipulation produced differences in the participants' perceptions of uncontrollability. Importantly, the intervention on the mediator variable cancelled the effect of the distal cause; the participants' judgments of control were no longer mood dependent when the P(R) was manipulated. This result supports the hypothesis that the so-called depressive realism effect is actually mediated by the probability of responding.
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Because causal relations are neither observable nor deducible, they must be induced from observable events. The 2 dominant approaches to the psychology of causal induction-the covariation approach and the causal power approach-are each crippled by fundamental problems. This article proposes an integration of these approaches that overcomes these problems. The proposal is that reasoners innately treat the relation between covariation (a function defined in terms of observable events) and causal power(an unobservable entity) as that between scientists' law or model and their theory explaining the model. This solution is formalized in the power PC theory, a causal power theory of the probabilistic contrast model(P. W. Cheng & L. R. Novick, 1990). The article reviews diverse old and new empirical tests discriminating this theory from previous models, none of which is justified by a theory. The results uniquely support the power PC theory.
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Although normatively irrelevant to the relationship between a cue and an outcome, outcome density (i.e. its base-rate probability) affects people's estimation of causality. By what process causality is incorrectly estimated is of importance to an integrative theory of causal learning. A potential explanation may be that this happens because outcome density induces a judgement bias. An alternative explanation is explored here, following which the incorrect estimation of causality is grounded in the processing of cue–outcome information during learning. A first neural network simulation shows that, in the absence of a deep processing of cue information, cue–outcome relationships are acquired but causality is correctly estimated. The second simulation shows how an incorrect estimation of causality may emerge from the active processing of both cue and outcome information. In an experiment inspired by the simulations, the role of a deep processing of cue information was put to test. In addition to an outcome density manipulation, a shallow cue manipulation was introduced: cue information was either still displayed (concurrent) or no longer displayed (delayed) when outcome information was given. Behavioural and simulation results agree: the outcome-density effect was maximal in the concurrent condition. The results are discussed with respect to the extant explanations of the outcome-density effect within the causal learning framework.
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It is well known that certain variables can bias judgements about the perceived contingency between an action and an outcome, making them depart from the normative predictions. For instance, previous studies have proven that the activity level or probability of responding, P(R), is a crucial variable that can affect these judgements in objectively noncontingent situations. A possible account for the P(R) effect is based on the differential exposure to actual contingencies during the training phase, which is in turn presumably produced by individual differences in participants' P(R). The current two experiments replicate the P(R) effect in a free-response paradigm, and show that participants' judgements are better predicted by P(R) than by the actual contingency to which they expose themselves. Besides, both experiments converge with previous empirical data, showing a persistent bias that does not vanish as training proceeds. These findings contrast with the preasymptotic and transitory effect predicted by several theoretical models.
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A 26-item Revised Paranormal Belief Scale is introduced which provides a measure of degree of belief in each of seven dimensions: Traditional Religious Belief, Psi, Witchcraft, Superstition,Spiritualism, Extraordinary Life Forms, and Precognition. Improvements from the original 25- item Paranormal Belief Scale (Tobacyk & Milford, 1983) include adoption of a seven-point ratingscale as well as item changes for three subscales: Precognition, Witchcraft, and Extraordinary Life Forms. These improvements provide greater reliability and validity, less restriction of range,and greater cross-cultural validity.
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From an evolutionary standpoint, a default presumption is that true beliefs are adaptive and misbeliefs maladaptive. But if humans are biologically engineered to appraise the world accurately and to form true beliefs, how are we to explain the routine exceptions to this rule? How can we account for mistaken beliefs, bizarre delusions and instances of self-deception? We explore this question in some detail. We begin by articulating a distinction between two general types of misbelief: those resulting from a breakdown in the normal functioning of the belief formation system (e.g. delusions) and those arising in the normal course of that system’s operations (e.g. beliefs based on incomplete or inaccurate information). The former are instances of biological dysfunction or pathology, reflecting “culpable” limitations of evolutionary design. Although the latter category includes undesirable (but tolerable) by-products of “forgivably” limited design, our quarry is a contentious subclass of this category: misbeliefs best conceived as design features. Such misbeliefs, unlike occasional lucky falsehoods, would have been systematically adaptive in the evolutionary past. Such misbeliefs, furthermore, would not be reducible to judicious – but doxasticallyi noncommittal - action policies. Finally, such misbeliefs would have been adaptive in themselves, constituting more than mere byproducts of adaptively biased misbelief-producing systems. We explore a range of potential candidates for evolved misbelief, and conclude that, of those surveyed, only positive illusions meet our criteria.
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Active contingency tasks, such as those used to explore judgments of control, suffer from variability in the actual values of critical variables. The authors debut a new, easily implemented procedure that restores control over these variables to the experimenter simply by telling participants when to respond, and when to withhold responding. This command-performance procedure not only restores control over critical variables such as actual contingency, it also allows response frequency to be manipulated independently of contingency or outcome frequency. This yields the first demonstration, to our knowledge, of the equivalent of a cue density effect in an active contingency task. Judgments of control are biased by response frequency outcome frequency, just as they are also biased by outcome frequency.
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In 4 experiments, 144 depressed and 144 nondepressed undergraduates (Beck Depression Inventory) were presented with one of a series of problems varying in the degree of contingency. In each problem, Ss estimated the degree of contingency between their responses (pressing or not pressing a button) and an environmental outcome (onset of a green light). Depressed Ss' judgments of contingency were suprisingly accurate in all 4 experiments. Nondepressed Ss overestimated the degree of contingency between their responses and outcomes when noncontingent outcomes were frequent and/or desired and underestimated the degree of contingency when contingent outcomes were undesired. Thus, predictions derived from social psychology concerning the linkage between subjective and objective contingencies were confirmed for nondepressed but not for depressed Ss. The learned helplessness and self-serving motivational bias hypotheses are evaluated as explanations of the results. (41/2 p ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).
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We examined whether individual differences in susceptibility to the illusion of control predicted differential vulnerability to depressive responses after a laboratory failure and naturally occurring life stressors. The illusion of control decreased the likelihood that subjects (N = 145) would (a) show immediate negative mood reactions to the laboratory failure, (b) become discouraged after naturally occurring negative life events, and (c) experience increases in depressive symptoms a month later given the occurrence of a high number of negative life events. In addition, the stress-moderating effect of the illusion of control on later depressive symptoms appeared to be mediated in part by its effect on reducing the discouragement subjects experienced from the occurrence of negative life events. These findings provide support for the hopelessness theory of depression and for the optimistic illusion-mental health link.
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The perception of the effectiveness of instrumental actions is influenced by depressed mood. Depressive realism (DR) is the claim that depressed people are particularly accurate in evaluating instrumentality. In two experiments, the authors tested the DR hypothesis using an action-outcome contingency judgment task. DR effects were a function of intertrial interval length and outcome density, suggesting that depressed mood is accompanied by reduced contextual processing rather than increased judgment accuracy. The DR effect was observed only when participants were exposed to extended periods in which no actions or outcomes occurred. This implies that DR may result from an impairment in contextual processing rather than accurate but negative expectations. Therefore, DR is consistent with a cognitive distortion view of depression.
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When people try to obtain a desired event and this outcome occurs independently of their behavior, they often think that they are controlling its occurrence. This is known as the illusion of control, and it is the basis for most superstitions and pseudosciences. However, most experiments demonstrating this effect had been conducted many years ago and almost always in the controlled environment of the psychology laboratory and with psychology students as subjects. Here, we explore the generality of this effect and show that it is still today a robust phenomenon that can be observed even in the context of a very simple computer program that users try to control (and believe that they are controlling) over the Internet. Understanding how robust and general this effect is, is a first step towards eradicating irrational and pseudoscientific thinking.
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An informal study was conducted to demonstrate the prevalence and relationship to specific background variables of prevailing superstitions. A questionnaire containing 24 superstitious beliefs or practices was independently completed by 132 adults. Each superstition was rated as to whether it had strong, partial, or no influence for the individual, and a total score was obtained. The highest possible score was 48, and the range found in the sample was 0 to 46. The mean total superstition score for women was higher than for men, the difference being statistically significant (p.05). A moderately substantial negative correlation (p.01) was found between superstitious belief and amount of formal education. It is suggested that, particularly in current times, the sense of control inherent in superstitious belief and practice has a therapeutic value in the reduction of anxiety. This value may account for the survival of common superstitions in spite of centuries of advance in scientific knowledge.
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One hundred and fifty participants played a computer task in which points were either gained (reinforcement) or lost (punishment) randomly on 75%, 50%, or 25% of trials. Despite the noncontingent nature of the task, participants frequently suggested superstitious rules by which points were either gained or lost. Rules were more likely to be suggested and supported higher confidence ratings under conditions of maximal reinforcement or minimal punishment, and participants gaining points tended to express more rules than did those losing points. Superstitious rule generation was in no way related to a person's locus of control, as measured by Rotter's Internal-External Scale. Participants losing points were more accurate in keeping track of their total number of points than were participants gaining points. Results are discussed in terms of reinforcement and punishment's effects on the stimulus control of rule-governed behavior, and comparisons are drawn with the illusion of control and learned helplessness literature.
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Judea Pearl won the 2010 Rumelhart Prize in computational cognitive science due to his seminal contributions to the development of Bayes nets and causal Bayes nets, frameworks that are central to multiple domains of the computational study of mind. At the heart of the causal Bayes nets formalism is the notion of a counterfactual, a representation of something false or nonexistent. Pearl refers to Bayes nets as oracles for intervention, and interventions can tell us what the effect of action will be or what the effect of counterfactual possibilities would be. Counterfactuals turn out to be necessary to understand thought, perception, and language. This selection of papers tells us why, sometimes in ways that support the Bayes net framework and sometimes in ways that challenge it.
Article
Experiments in which subjects are asked to analytically assess response-outcome relationships have frequently yielded accurate judgments of response-outcome independence, but more naturalistically set experiments in which subjects are instructed to obtain the outcome have frequently yielded illusions of control The present research tested the hypothesis that a differential probability of responding p(R), between these two traditions could be at the basis of these different results Subjects received response-independent outcomes and were instructed either to obtain the outcome (naturalistic condition) or to behave scientifically in order to find out how much control over the outcome was possible (analytic condition) Subjects in the naturalistic condition tended to respond at almost every opportunity and developed a strong illusion of control Subjects in the analytic condition maintained their p(R) at a point close to 5 and made accurate judgments of control The illusion of control observed in the naturalistic condition appears to be a collateral effect of a high tendency to respond in subjects who are trying to obtain an outcome, this tendency to respond prevents them from learning that the outcome would have occurred with the same probability if they had not responded
Article
Overestimations of null contingencies between a cue, C, and an outcome, O, are widely reported effects that can arise for multiple reasons. For instance, a high probability of the cue, P(C), and a high probability of the outcome, P(O), are conditions that promote such overestimations. In two experiments, participants were asked to judge the contingency between a cue and an outcome. Both P(C) and P(O) were given extreme values (high and low) in a factorial design, while maintaining the contingency between the two events at zero. While we were able to observe main effects of the probability of each event, our experiments showed that the cue- and outcome-density biases interacted such that a high probability of the two stimuli enhanced the overestimation beyond the effects observed when only one of the two events was frequent. This evidence can be used to better understand certain societal issues, such as belief in pseudoscience, that can be the result of overestimations of null contingencies in high-P(C) or high-P(O) situations.
Article
A 25-item self-report questionnaire designed to assess belief in the paranormal was constructed, based on the results from factor analysis of a 61-item pool administered to 391 college students. Factor analysis revealed 7 independent dimensions composing belief in the paranormal. These factors were Traditional Religious Belief, Psi Belief, Witchcraft, Superstition, Spiritualism, Extraordinary Life Forms, and Precognition. The Paranormal Scale was constructed by selecting either 3 or 4 marker items to represent each of the 7 dimensions as paranormal subscales. Descriptive statistics for this Paranormal Scale and the 7 subscales are presented, as well as reliability statistics. Studies are presented that support the validity of this scale and its subscales with such personality/adjustment constructs as internal–external locus of control, sensation seeking, death threat, actual self–ideal self-concept, uncritical inferences, dogmatism, and irrational beliefs. (25 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
Misperceptions of causality are at the heart of superstitious thinking and pseudoscience. The main goal of the present work is to show how our knowledge about the mechanisms involved in causal induction can be used to hinder the development of these beliefs. Available evidence shows that people sometimes perceive causal relationships that do not really exist. We suggest that this might be partly due to their failing to take into account alternative factors that might be playing an important causal role. The present experiment shows that providing accurate and difficult-to-ignore information about other candidate causes can be a good strategy for reducing misattributions of causality, such as illusions of control.
Article
Conducted a series of 6 studies involving 631 adults to elucidate the "illusion of control" phenomenon, defined as an expectancy of a personal success probability inappropriately higher than the objective probability would warrant. It was predicted that factors from skill situations (competition, choice, familiarity, involvement) introduced into chance situations would cause Ss to feel inappropriately confident. In Study 1 Ss cut cards against either a confident or a nervous competitor; in Study 2 lottery participants were or were not given a choice of ticket; in Study 3 lottery participants were or were not given a choice of either familiar or unfamiliar lottery tickets; in Study 4, Ss in a novel chance game either had or did not have practice and responded either by themselves or by proxy; in Study 5 lottery participants at a racetrack were asked their confidence at different times; finally, in Study 6 lottery participants either received a single 3-digit ticket or 1 digit on each of 3 days. Indicators of confidence in all 6 studies supported the prediction. (38 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
The differential effects of non-contingent positive and negative reinforcement operations on the acquisition of superstitious behaviors and rules were investigated in two experiments. College students were instructed to try to produce and/or keep the word “GOOD” on a computer screen (positive reinforcement), or to try to prevent and/or remove the word “BAD” from the screen (negative reinforcement) using response keys. Data from both experiments indicated that participants exposed to lean schedules of negative reinforcers believed that they had greater control over non-contingent stimulus events than participants exposed to either rich or lean schedules of positive reinforcers. These findings and results from research investigating everyday superstitious activities suggest that, relative to positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement operations may provide a more fertile condition for the development and maintenance of superstitious behaviors.
Article
A large body of research has attempted to develop theories about the function and origin of superstitious beliefs on the basis of the psychological correlates of such beliefs. Most of this work has measured superstitious belief using the Paranormal Belief Scale (PBS). However, this scale refers solely to negative superstitions (e.g., breaking a mirror will cause bad luck) and omits items referring to positive superstitions (e.g., carrying a lucky charm will bring good luck). The two studies reported here found significant interactions between belief in negative and positive superstitions, and several individual difference measures. These findings have important implications for theory development, demonstrate that the PBS is an incomplete measure of superstitious belief, and highlight the need for future measures to include items referring to positive superstitions.
Article
Pseudoscience, superstitions, and quackery are serious problems that threaten public health and in which many variables are involved. Psychology, however, has much to say about them, as it is the illusory perceptions of causality of so many people that needs to be understood. The proposal we put forward is that these illusions arise from the normal functioning of the cognitive system when trying to associate causes and effects. Thus, we propose to apply basic research and theories on causal learning to reduce the impact of pseudoscience. We review the literature on the illusion of control and the causal learning traditions, and then present an experiment as an illustration of how this approach can provide fruitful ideas to reduce pseudoscientific thinking. The experiment first illustrates the development of a quackery illusion through the testimony of fictitious patients who report feeling better. Two different predictions arising from the integration of the causal learning and illusion of control domains are then proven effective in reducing this illusion. One is showing the testimony of people who feel better without having followed the treatment. The other is asking participants to think in causal terms rather than in terms of effectiveness.
Article
(This reprinted article originally appeared in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1948, Vol 38, 168–272. The following abstract of the original article appeared in PA, Vol 22:4299.) A pigeon is brought to a stable state of hunger by reducing it to 75% of its weight when well fed. It is put into an experimental cage for a few minutes each day. A food hopper attached to the cage may be swung into place so that the pigeon can eat from it. A solenoid and a timing relay hold the hopper in place for 5 sec at each reinforcement. If a clock is now arranged to present the food hopper at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the bird's behavior, operant conditioning usually takes place. The bird tends to learn whatever response it is making when the hopper appears. The response may be extinguished and reconditioned. The experiment might be said to demonstrate a sort of superstition. The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
Many prominent theorists have argued that accurate perceptions of the self, the world, and the future are essential for mental health. Yet considerable research evidence suggests that overly positive self-evaluations, exaggerated perceptions of control or mastery, and unrealistic optimism are characteristic of normal human thought. Moreover, these illusions appear to promote other criteria of mental health, including the ability to care about others, the ability to be happy or contented, and the ability to engage in productive and creative work. These strategies may succeed, in large part, because both the social world and cognitive-processing mechanisms impose filters on incoming information that distort it in a positive direction; negative information may be isolated and represented in as unthreatening a manner as possible. These positive illusions may be especially useful when an individual receives negative feedback or is otherwise threatened and may be especially adaptive under these circumstances.
Article
80 Ss were instructed that their responses on a circular array of pushbuttons determined whether a reward or nonreward would occur. Reward occurrence was preprogrammed and random with the independent variable the relative frequency of reward. Superstitious response preferences and patterns were established as a function of the probability of reward, but rotational sequences for the systematic testing of responses were also established as orderly scanning rules, especially following nonreward. The author distinguishes between collecting and using information in that they are differentially influenced by the uncertainty of outcome and the probability of reward.
Article
The role of schedules of reinforcement on the development of superstitious conditioning was investigated in a college age population. Participants were randomly assigned to one of eight operant schedules and instructed to remove (escape), prevent and/or remove (avoidance and escape) or produce (positive) the appearance of a computer generated stimulus using a response pad. Results from the experiment indicate that concomitant (escape and avoidance) schedules of reinforcement are most effective in facilitating acquisition of superstitious behavior as measured by self-reports of participants.
Implementation and assessment of an intervention to debias adoles-cents against causal illusions Exploring the factors that encourage and maintain the illusion of control: The case of preventive illusions. Manuscript submitted for publication Depressive realism: Wiser or quieter?
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The lack of side effects of an ineffective treatment facilitates the development of erroneous belief in its effectiveness Non-contingent positive and negative reinforcement schedules of super-stitious behaviors
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The psychology of learning and motivation Causal learning
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