The illusion of control: A Bayesian perspective

Synthese 189 (S1):29-38 (2012)
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In the absence of an objective contingency, psychological studies have shown that people nevertheless attribute outcomes to their own actions. Thus, by wrongly inferring control in chance situations people appear to hold false beliefs concerning their agency, and are said to succumb to an illusion of control (IoC). In the current article, we challenge traditional conceptualizations of the illusion by examining the thesis that the IoC reflects rational and adaptive decision making. Firstly, we propose that the IoC is a by-product of a rational uncertain judgment (“the likelihood that I have control over a particular outcome”). We adopt a Bayesian perspective to demonstrate that, given their past experience, people should be prone to ascribing skill to chance outcomes in certain situations where objectively control does not exist. Moreover, existing empirical evidence from the IoC literature is shown to support such an account. Secondly, from a decision-theoretic perspective, in many consequential situations, underestimating the chance of controlling a situation carries more costs than overestimating that chance. Thus, situations will arise in which people will incorrectly assign control to events in which outcomes result from chance, but the attribution is based on rational processes



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References found in this work

The evolution of misbelief.Ryan McKay & Daniel Dennett - 2009 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32 (6):493–510; discussion 510–61.
Probabilistic models of cognition: Conceptual foundations.Nick Chater & Alan Yuille - 2006 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10 (7):287-291.

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