Judgments Relative to Patterns: How Temporal Sequence Patterns Affect Judgments and Memory

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Abstract

Six experiments studied relative frequency judgment and recall of sequentially presented items drawn from 2 distinct categories (i.e., city and animal). The experiments show that judged frequencies of categories of sequentially encountered stimuli are affected by certain properties of the sequence configuration. We found (a) a first-run effect whereby people overestimated the frequency of a given category when that category was the first repeated category to occur in the sequence and (b) a dissociation between judgments and recall; respondents may judge 1 event more likely than the other and yet recall more instances of the latter. Specifically, the distribution of recalled items does not correspond to the frequency estimates for the event categories, indicating that participants do not make frequency judgments by sampling their memory for individual items as implied by other accounts such as the availability heuristic (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973) and the availability process model (Hastie & Park, 1986). We interpret these findings as reflecting the operation of a judgment heuristic sensitive to sequential patterns and offer an account for the relationship between memory and judged frequencies of sequentially encountered stimuli.

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