Measuring the influence of prior beliefs on probabilistic estimations

Alex FilipowiczUniversity of Waterloo
Derick ValadaoUniversity of Waterloo
Britt AndersonUniversity of Waterloo
James DanckertUniversity of Waterloo

Abstract

Previous research has shown that the mental models participants use throughout a task influence the efficiency with which they learn and adapt to changes in their environment (Lee & Johnson-Laird, 2013; Stöttinger et al, 2014). We wanted to measure the influence of different types of mental models participants hold before engaging in a task. Using a modified version of the game “Plinko”, participants predicted the likelihood that a ball falling through pegs would land in one of forty slots. Importantly, participants were asked to make likelihood estimations before seeing the first ball drop. This initial probability estimate was used to categorize participants into different groups based on distinct a priori models. Results indicated that participants came into this task with a number of distinct initial models, and that the type of model influenced their ability to accurately represent different distributions of ball drops in Plinko.

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