Through a Narrow Window: Sample Size and the Perception of Correlation

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A theoretical analysis (Y. Kareev, 1995b) of the sampling distribution of correlations led to the surprising conclusion that the use of small samples has a potential advantage for the early detection of a correlation. This is so because the distribution is highly skewed, and the smaller the sample size, the more the distribution is skewed. This article describes 2 experiments that were designed as empirical tests of this conclusion. In Experiment 1 (N = 112), the authors compared the predictions of participants differing in their working-memory capacity (hence in the size of the samples they were likely to consider). In Experiment 2 (N = 144), the authors compared the predictions of participants who viewed samples of different sizes, whose size was determined by the authors. The results fully supported Y. Kareev's conclusion: In both experiments, participants with lower capacity (or smaller samples) indeed perceived the correlation as more extreme and were more accurate in their predictions.

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