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Procedural priming of a numerical cognitive illusion

Kimmo Eriksson and Fredrik Jansson

Judgment and Decision Making, 2016, vol. 11, issue 3, 205-212

Abstract: A strategy activated in one task may be transferred to subsequent tasks and prevent activation of other strategies that would otherwise come to mind, a mechanism referred to as procedural priming. In a novel application of procedural priming we show that it can make or break cognitive illusions. Our test case is the $1/k$ illusion, which is based on the same unwarranted mathematical shortcut as the MPG illusion and the time-saving bias. The task is to estimate distances between values of fractions on the form $1/k$. Most people given this task intuitively base their estimates on the distances between the denominators (i.e., the reciprocals of the fractions), which may yield very poor estimations of the true distances between the fractions. As expected, the tendency to fall for this illusion is related to cognitive style (Study 1). In order to apply procedural priming we constructed versions of the task in which the illusion is weak, in the sense that most people do not fall for it anymore. We then gave participants both ``strong illusion'' and ``weak illusion'' versions of the task (Studies 2 and 3). Participants who first did the task in the weak illusion version would often persist with the correct strategy even in the strong illusion version, thus breaking the otherwise strong illusion in the latter task. Conversely, participants who took the strong illusion version first would then often fall for the illusion even in the weak illusion version, thus strengthening the otherwise weak illusion in the latter task.

Keywords: fractions; procedural priming; cognitive illusion; Einstellung; estimation. (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2016
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