When explanations compete: the role of explanatory coherence on judgments of likelihood


Authors: 
Sloman, S. A.
Category: 
Volume: 
52
Pages: 
21-Jan
Year: 
1994
Publisher: 
Cognition
Abstract: 

The likelihood of a statement is often derived by generating an explanation for it and evaluating the plausibility of the explanation. The explanation discounting principle states that people tend to focus on a single explanation; alternative explanations compete with the effect of reducing one another's credibility. Two experiments tested the hypothesis that this principle applies to inductive inferences concerning the properties of everyday categories. In both experiments, subjects estimated the probability of a series of statements (conclusions) and the conditional probabilities of those conclusions given other related facts. For example, given that most lawyers make good sales people, what is the probability that most psychologists make good sales people? The result showed that when the fact and the conclusion had the same explanation the fact increased people's willingness to believe the conclusion, but when they had different explanations the fact decreased the conclusion's credibility. This decrease is attributed to explanation discounting; the explanation for the fact had the effect of reducing the plausibility of the explanation for the conclusion.