Bayesian rationality for the Wason selection task? A test of optimal data selection theory

Thinking and Reasoning 5 (2):115 – 144 (1999)
Oaksford and Chater (1994) proposed to analyse the Wason selection task as an inductive instead of a deductive task. Applying Bayesian statistics, they concluded that the cards that participants tend to select are those with the highest expected information gain. Therefore, their choices seem rational from the perspective of optimal data selection. We tested a central prediction from the theory in three experiments: card selection frequencies should be sensitive to the subjective probability of occurrence for individual cards. In Experiment 1, expected frequencies of the p- and the q-card were manipulated independently by concepts referring to large vs. small sets. Although the manipulation had an effect on card selection frequencies, there was only a weak correlation between the predicted and the observed patterns. In the second experiment, relative frequencies of individual cards were manipulated more directly by explicit frequency information. In addition, participants estimated probabilities for the four logical cases and of the conditional statement itself. The experimental manipulations strongly affected the probability estimates, but were completely unrelated to card selections. This result was replicated in a third experiment. We conclude that our data provide little support for optimal data selection theory.
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