Background beliefs and evidence interpretation

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In this paper we argue that it is often adaptive to use one’s background beliefs when interpreting information that, from a normative point of view, is incomplete. In both of the experiments reported here participants were presented with an item possessing two features and were asked to judge, in the light of some evidence concerning the features, to which of two categories it was more likely that the item belonged. It was found that when participants received evidence relevant to just one of these hypothesised categories (i.e. evidence that did not form a Bayesian likelihood ratio) they used their background beliefs to interpret this information. In Experiment 2, on the other hand, participants behaved in a broadly Bayesian manner when the evidence they received constituted a completed likelihood ratio. We discuss the circumstances under which participants, when making their judgements, consider the alternative hypothesis. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our results for an understanding of hypothesis testing, belief revision, and categorisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-124
Number of pages28
JournalThinking & Reasoning
Publication statusPublished - 2000


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