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A comparator-hypothesis account of biased contingency detection

Vadillo, Miguel A., Barberia, Itxaso
Behavioural processes 2018 v.154 pp. 45-51
models, prediction, probability
Our ability to detect statistical dependencies between different events in the environment is strongly biased by the number of coincidences between them. Even when there is no true covariation between a cue and an outcome, if the marginal probability of either of them is high, people tend to perceive some degree of statistical contingency between both events. The present paper explores the ability of the Comparator Hypothesis to explain the general pattern of results observed in this literature. Our simulations show that this model can account for the biasing effects of the marginal probabilities of cues and outcomes. Furthermore, the overall fit of the Comparator Hypothesis to a sample of experimental conditions from previous studies is comparable to that of the popular Rescorla-Wagner model. These results should encourage researchers to further explore and put to the test the predictions of the Comparator Hypothesis in the domain of biased contingency detection.