The Cognitive Basis of Joint Probability Judgments: Processes, Ecology, and Adaption

  • Datum:
  • Plats: Humanistiska teatern, Engelska parken, Thunbergsv. 3H, Uppsala
  • Doktorand: Sundh, Joakim
  • Om avhandlingen
  • Arrangör: Institutionen för psykologi
  • Kontaktperson: Sundh, Joakim
  • Disputation


When navigating an uncertain world, it is often necessary to judge the probability of a conjunction of events, that is, their joint probability. The subject of this thesis is how people infer joint probabilities from probabilities of individual events. Study I explored such joint probability judgment tasks in conditions with independent events and conditions with systematic risk that could be inferred through feedback. Results indicated that participants tended to approach the tasks using additive combinations of the individual probabilities, but switch to multiplication (or, to a lesser extent, exemplar memory) when events were independent and additive strategies therefore were less accurate. Consequently, participants were initially more accurate in the task with high systematic risk, despite that task being more complex from the perspective of probability theory. Study II simulated the performance of models of joint probability judgment in tasks based both on computer generated data and real-world data-sets, to evaluate which cognitive processes are accurate in which ecological contexts. Models used in Study I and other models inspired by current research were explored. The results confirmed that, by virtue of their robustness, additive models are reasonable general purpose algorithms, although when one is familiar with the task it is preferable to switch to other strategies more specifically adapted to the task. After Study I found that people adapt strategy choice according to dependence between events and Study II confirmed that these adaptions are justified in terms of accuracy, Study III investigated whether adapting to stochastic dependence implied thinking according to stochastic principles. Results indicated that this was not the case, but that participants instead worked according to the weak assumption that events were independent, regardless of the actual state of the world. In conclusion, this thesis demonstrates that people generally do not combine individual probabilities into joint probability judgments in ways consistent with the basic principles of probability theory or think of the task in such terms, but neither does there appear to be much reason to do so. Rather, simpler heuristics can often approximate equally or more accurate judgments.