Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Natural Frequencies on Bayesian Reasoning

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Abstract

The natural frequency facilitation effect describes the finding that people are better able to solve descriptive Bayesian inference tasks when represented as joint frequencies obtained through natural sampling, known as natural frequencies, than as conditional probabilities. The present meta-analysis reviews 20 years of research seeking to address when, why, and for whom natural frequency formats are most effective. We review contributions from research associated with the 2 dominant theoretical perspectives, the ecological rationality framework and nested-sets theory, and test potential moderators of the effect. A systematic review of relevant literature yielded 35 articles representing 226 performance estimates. These estimates were statistically integrated using a bivariate mixed-effects model that yields summary estimates of average performances across the 2 formats and estimates of the effects of different study characteristics on performance. These study characteristics range from moderators representing individual characteristics (e.g., numeracy, expertise), to methodological differences (e.g., use of incentives, scoring criteria) and features of problem representation (e.g., short menu format, visual aid). Short menu formats (less computationally complex representations showing joint-events) and visual aids demonstrated some of the strongest moderation effects, improving performance for both conditional probability and natural frequency formats. A number of methodological factors (e.g., exposure to both problem formats) were also found to affect performance rates, emphasizing the importance of a systematic approach. We suggest how research on Bayesian reasoning can be strengthened by broadening the definition of successful Bayesian reasoning to incorporate choice and process and by applying different research methodologies.

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