Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-ttngx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-19T21:53:55.235Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Base-rate respect: From ecological rationality to dual processes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 October 2007

Aron K. Barbey
Cognitive Neuroscience Section, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Bethesda, MD 20892-1440,
Steven A. Sloman
Cognitive and Linguistics Science, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, Steven_Sloman@brown.edu


The phenomenon of base-rate neglect has elicited much debate. One arena of debate concerns how people make judgments under conditions of uncertainty. Another more controversial arena concerns human rationality. In this target article, we attempt to unpack the perspectives in the literature on both kinds of issues and evaluate their ability to explain existing data and their conceptual coherence. From this evaluation we conclude that the best account of the data should be framed in terms of a dual-process model of judgment, which attributes base-rate neglect to associative judgment strategies that fail to adequately represent the set structure of the problem. Base-rate neglect is reduced when problems are presented in a format that affords accurate representation in terms of nested sets of individuals.

Main Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2007

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ayton, P. & Wright, G. (1994) Subjective probability: What should we believe? In: Subjective probability, ed Wright, G. & Ayton, P., pp. 163–83. Wiley.Google Scholar
Bauer, M. I. & Johnson-Laird, P. N. (1993) How diagrams can improve reasoning. Psychological Science 4:372–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bradburn, N. M., Rips, L. J. & Shevell, S. K. (1987) Answering autobiographical questions: The impact of memory and inference on surveys. Science 236:157–61.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Brase, G. L. (2002a) Ecological and evolutionary validity: Comments on Johnson-Laird, Legrenzi, Girotto, Legrenzi, & Caverni's (1999) mental-model theory of extensional reasoning. Psychological Review 109:722–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brase, G. L. (2002b) Which statistical formats facilitate what decisions? The perception and influence of different statistical information formats. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 15:381401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brase, G. L., Fiddick, L. & Harries, C. (2006) Participant recruitment methods and statistical reasoning performance. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 59:965–76.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Calvillo, D. P. & Revlin, R. (2005) The role of similarity in deductive categorical inference. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 12:938–44.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Casscells, W., Schoenberger, A. & Graboys, T. B. (1978) Interpretation by physicians of clinical laboratory results. The New England Journal of Medicine 299:9991000.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J. (1996) Are humans good intuitive statisticians after all? Rethinking some conclusions from the literature on judgment under uncertainty. Cognition 58:173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Eddy, D. M. (1982) Probabilistic reasoning in clinical medicine: Problems and opportunities. In: Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases, ed Kahneman, D., Slovic, P. & Tversky, A., pp. 249–67. Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Estes, W. K., Campbell, J. A., Hatsopoulos, N. & Hurwitz, J. B. (1989) Base-rate effects in category learning: A comparison of parallel network and memory storage-retrieval models. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 15:556–71.Google ScholarPubMed
Evans, J. St. B. T., Handley, S. J., Over, D. E. & Perham, N. (2002) Background beliefs in Bayesian inference. Memory & Cognition 30:179–90.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Evans, J. St. B. T., Handley, S. J., Perham, N., Over, D. E. & Thompson, V. A. (2000) Frequency versus probability formats in statistical word problems. Cognition 77:197213.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Evans, J. St. B. T. & Over, D. E. (1996) Rationality and reasoning. Psychology Press.Google Scholar
Fodor, J. A. (1983) Modularity of mind. MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fox, C. & Levav, J. (2004) Partition-edit-count: Naïve extensional reasoning in judgment of conditional probability. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 133:626–42.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gigerenzer, G. (1993) The superego, the ego, and the id in statistical reasoning. In: G. A Handbook of Data Analysis in the Behavioral Sciences, ed Keren, G. & Lewis, G., pp. 331–39. Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Gigerenzer, G. (1996) The psychology of good judgment: Frequency formats and simple algorithms. Medical Decision Making 16:273–80.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gigerenzer, G. (2006) Ecological rationality: Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition summary of research area II. Retrieved October 1, 2006, from the Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition Web site: Scholar
Gigerenzer, G., Hell, W. & Blank, H. (1988) Presentation and content: The use of base-rates as a continuous variable. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 14:513–25.Google Scholar
Gigerenzer, G. & Hoffrage, U. (1995) How to improve Bayesian reasoning without instruction: Frequency formats. Psychological Review 102:684704.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gigerenzer, G., Hoffrage, U. & Ebert, A. (1998) AIDS counseling for low-risk clients. AIDS Care 10:197211.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gigerenzer, G. & Regier, T. P. (1996) How do we tell an association from a rule? Psychological Bulletin 119:2326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gigerenzer, G. & Selten, R., eds. (2001) Bounded rationality: The adaptive toolbox. MIT Press.Google Scholar
Gigerenzer, G., Todd, P. & the ABC Research Group (1999) Simple heuristics that make us smart. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Gilovich, T., Griffin, D. & Kahneman, D., eds. (2002) Heuristics and biases: The psychology of intuitive judgment. Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Girotto, V. & Gonzalez, M. (2001) Solving probabilistic and statistical problems: A matter of information structure and question form. Cognition 78:247–76.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Girotto, V. & Gonzalez, M. (2002) Chances and frequencies in probabilistic reasoning: Rejoinder to Hoffrage, Gigerenzer, Krauss, and Martignon. Cognition 84:353–59.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Girotto, V. & Gonzalez, M. (in press) Children's understanding of posterior probability. Cognition. DOI:10.1016/j.cognition.2007.02.005.Google Scholar
Gluck, M. A. & Bower, G. H. (1988) From conditioning to category learning: An adaptive network model. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 117:227–47.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Griffin, D. & Buehler, R. (1999) Frequency, probability, and prediction: Easy solutions to cognitive illusions? Cognitive Psychology 38:4878.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Griggs, R. A. & Newstead, S. (1982) The role of problem structure in a deductive reasoning task. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 8:297307.Google Scholar
Grossen, B. & Carnine, D. (1990) Diagramming a logic strategy: Effects on difficult problem types and transfer. Learning Disability Quarterly 13:168–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hammerton, M. (1973) A case of radical probability estimation. Journal of Experimental Psychology 101:252–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hoffrage, U., Gigerenzer, G., Krauss, S. & Martignon, L. (2002) Representation facilitates reasoning: What natural frequencies are and what they are not. Cognition 84:343–52.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Johnson-Laird, P. N., Legrenzi, P., Girotto, V., Legrenzi, M. S. & Caverni, J.-P. (1999) Naïve probability: A mental model theory of extensional reasoning. Psychological Review 106:6288.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kahneman, D. & Frederick, S. (2002) Representativeness revisited: Attribute substitution in intuitive judgment. In: Heuristics and biases: The psychology of intuitive judgment, ed. Gilovich, T., Griffin, D. & Kahneman, D., pp. 4981. Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kahneman, D. & Frederick, S. (2005) A model of heuristic judgment. In: The Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning, ed. Holyoak, K. J. & Morris, R. G., pp. 267–93. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Kahneman, D. & Frederick, S. (1973) On the psychology of prediction. Psychological Review 80:237–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kahneman, D. & Frederick, S. (1996) On the reality of cognitive illusions. Psychological Review 103:582–91.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Keren, K. & Thijs, L. J. (1996) The base-rate controversy: Is the glass half-full or half empty? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 19:26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kleiter, G. D. (1994) Natural sampling: Rationality without base-rates. In: Contributions to mathematical psychology, psychometrics, and methodology, ed. Fischer, G. H. & Laming, D., pp. 375–88. Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kleiter, G. D., Krebs, M., Doherty, M. E., Gavaran, H., Chadwick, R. & Brake, G. B. (1997) Do subjects understand base-rates? Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 72:2561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Koehler, J. J. (1996) The base-rate fallacy reconsidered: Descriptive, normative, and methodological challenges. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 19:153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kurzenhauser, S. & Hoffrage, U. (2002) Teaching Bayesian reasoning: An evaluation of a classroom tutorial for medical students. Medical Teacher 24:516–21.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lindsey, S., Hertwig, R. & Gigerenzer, G. (2003) Communicating statistical DNA evidence. Jurimetrics 43:147–63.Google Scholar
Linton, M. (1975) Memory for real-world events. In: Explorations in cognition, ed. Norman, D. A. & Rumelhart, D. E., pp. 376404. Freedman Press.Google Scholar
Linton, M. (1982) Transformations of memory in everyday life. In: Memory observed, ed. Neisser, U., pp. 7791. Freedman Press.Google Scholar
Macchi, L. (2000) Partitive formulation of information in probabilistic problems: Beyond heuristics and frequency format explanations. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 82:217–36.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mellers, B. & McGraw, A. P. (1999) How to improve Bayesian reasoning: Comments on Gigerenzer & Hoffrage (1995) Psychological Review 106:417–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Monaghan, P. & Stenning, K. (1998) Effects of representational modality and thinking style on learning to solve reasoning problems. In: Proceedings of the 20th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, ed. Gernsbacher, M. A. & Derry, S. J., pp. 716–21. Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Newstead, S. E. (1989) Interpretational errors in syllogistic reasoning. Journal of Memory and Language 28:7891.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nosofsky, R. M., Kruschke, J. K. & McKinley, S. C. (1992) Combining exemplar-based category representations and connectionist learning rules. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 18:211–33.Google ScholarPubMed
Over, D. E. (2000a) Ecological rationality and its heuristics. Thinking and Reasoning 6:182–92.Google Scholar
Over, D. E. (2000b) Ecological issues: A reply to Todd, Fiddick, & Krauss. Thinking and Reasoning 6:385–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Over, D. E. (2003) From massive modularity to meta-representation: The evolution of higher cognition. In: Evolution and the psychology of thinking: The debate, ed. Over, D. E., pp. 121–44. Psychology Press.Google Scholar
Over, D. E. (2007) Content-independent conditional inference. In: Integrating the mind: Domain general versus domain specific processes in higher cognition, ed. Roberts, M. J., pp. 83103. Psychology Press.Google Scholar
Over, D. E. & Green, D. W. (2001) Contingency, causation, and adaptive inference. Psychological Review 108:682–84.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pillemer, E. D., Rhinehart, E. D. & White, S. H. (1986) Memories of life transitions: The first year in college. Human Learning: Journal of Practical Research and Applications 5:109–23.Google Scholar
Ramsey, F. P. (1964) Truth and probability. In: Studies in subjective probability, ed. Kyburg, H. E. Jr., & Smokler, E., pp. 6192. Wiley.Google Scholar
Reyna, V. F. (1991) Class inclusion, the conjunction fallacy, and other cognitive illusions. Developmental Review 11:317–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Reyna, V. F. & Brainerd, C. J. (1992) A fuzzy-trace theory of reasoning and remembering: Paradoxes, patterns, and parallelism. In: From learning processes to cognitive processes: Essays in honor of William K. Estes, ed Healy, A., Kosslyn, S. & Shiffrin, R., pp. 235–59. Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Reyna, V. F. & Brainerd, C. J. (1994) The origins of probability judgment: A review of data and theories. In: Subjective probability, ed Wright, G. & Ayton, P., pp. 239–72. Wiley.Google Scholar
Reyna, V. F. & Brainerd, C. J. (1995) Fuzzy-trace theory: An interim synthesis. Learning and Individual Differences 7:175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Savage, L. J. (1954) The foundations of statistics. Wiley.Google Scholar
Schwartz, N. & Sudman, S. (1994) Autobiographical memory and the validity of retrospective reports. Springer Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schwartz, N. & Wanke, M. (2002) Experimental and contextual heuristics in frequency judgment: Ease of recall and response scales. In: Etc. Frequency processing and cognition, ed Sedlmeier, P. & Betsch, T., pp. 89108. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Sedlmeier, P. & Betsch, T. (2002) Etc. Frequency processing and cognition. Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sedlmeier, P. & Gigerenzer, G. (2001) Teaching Bayesian reasoning in less than two hours. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 130:380400.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Sloman, S. A. (1996a) The empirical case for two systems of reasoning. Psychological Bulletin 119:322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sloman, S. A. (1998) Categorical inference is not a tree: The myth of inheritance hierarchies. Cognitive Psychology 35:133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sloman, S. A. (2005) Causal models: How we think about the world and its alternatives. Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sloman, S. A., Lombrozo, T. & Malt, B. C. (in press) Mild ontology and domain-specific categorization. In: Integrating the mind, Roberts, M. J.. Psychology Press.Google Scholar
Sloman, S. A. & Over, D. E. (2003) Probability judgment from the inside and out. In: Evolution and the psychology of thinking: The debate, ed Over, D. E., pp. 145–70. Psychology Press.Google Scholar
Sloman, S. A., Over, D. E., Slovak, L. & Stibel, J. M. (2003) Frequency illusions and other fallacies. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 91:296309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stanovich, K. E. (1999) Who is rational? Studies of individual differences in reasoning. Erlbaum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stanovich, K. E. & West, R. F. (1998a) Individual differences in rational thought. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 127:161–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stanovich, K. E. (2000) Individual differences in reasoning: Implications for the rationality debate. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 23:645726.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1974) Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science 185:1124–31.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1983) Extensional versus intuitive reasoning: The conjunction fallacy in probability judgment. Psychological Review 90:293315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wagenaar, W. A. (1986) My memory: A study of autobiographical memory over six years. Cognitive Psychology 18:225–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yamagishi, K. (2003) Facilitating normative judgments of conditional probability: Frequency or nested sets? Experimental Psychology 50:97106.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Zacks, R. T. & Hasher, L. (2002) Frequency processing: A twenty-five year perspective. In: Etc. Frequency processing and cognition, ed Sedlmeier, P. & Betsch, T., pp. 2136. Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar