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The illusion of replacement in research into the development of thinking biases: the case of the conjunction fallacy

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Morsanyi, K 
Chiesi, F 
Primi, C 
Szűcs, D 


The conjunction fallacy is a violation of a very basic rule of probability. Interestingly, although committing the fallacy seems irrational, adults are no less susceptible to the fallacy than young children. In Experiment 1, by employing tasks where the conjunctive response option involved two non-representative items, we found a large reduction in fallacy rates as compared to traditional conjunction fallacy problems. Nevertheless, fallacy rates remained relatively high in both adolescents and adults, although adults showed more consistency in their normative responses. In Experiment 2, we demonstrated that children’s relatively good performance on the task was not the consequence of their missing knowledge of social stereotypes. Additionally, children were more strongly affected by explicitly presented frequency information than adults. Indeed, adults only took frequency information into account when frequencies were made relevant by a training in probabilistic reasoning. Overall, the results suggest that whereas the potential for normative reasoning increases with development, this potential is often overshadowed by a pervasive tendency in adolescence and adulthood to rely on contextual information, knowledge, and beliefs, even when conflicting information is available. By contrast, children are more strongly influenced by explicitly presented information than relevant knowledge cued by the tasks.



Cognitive development, conjunction fallacy, contextualisation, frequency information, inverted Ushaped pattern, rationality

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Journal of Cognitive Psychology

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Taylor and Francis
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/I038071/1)
This research, and the writing of this paper, was partially supported by a UK Economic and Social Research Council post-doctoral fellowship [PTA-026-27-2989] to KM.