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On the Misperception of Variability


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  • Yaakov Kareev


  • Sharon Arnon
  • Reut Horwitz-Zeliger
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    Ever since the days of Francis Bacon it has been claimed that people perceive the world as less variable and more regular than it actually is. Such misperception, if shown to exist, could explain a host of perplexing behaviors. However, the only evidence supporting the claim is indirect, and there is no explanation of its cause. As a possible cause, we suggest the use of sample variability as an estimate of population variability. This is so since the sampling distribution of sample variance is downward attenuated, the attenuation being substantial for sample sizes that people are likely to consider. The results of five experiments show that people use sample variability, uncorrected for sample size, in tasks in which a correction is normatively called for, and indeed perceive variability as smaller than it actually is.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by The Center for the Study of Rationality, Hebrew University, Jerusalem in its series Discussion Paper Series with number dp285.

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    Length: 43 pages
    Date of creation: Feb 2002
    Date of revision:
    Publication status: Published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2002, vol. 131, pp. 287-297.
    Handle: RePEc:huj:dispap:dp285

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    Cited by:
    1. Alessandro Innocenti & Patrizia Latturolo & Maria Grazia Pazienza, 2009. "Heuristics and Biases in Travel Mode Choice," Working Papers 0905, SIET Società Italiana di Economia dei Trasporti e della Logistica.
    2. Yaakov Kareev & Massimo Warglien, 2003. "Cognitive Overload and the Evaluation of Risky Alternatives: The Effects of Sample Size, Information Format and Attitude To Risk," Discussion Paper Series, The Center for the Study of Rationality, Hebrew University, Jerusalem dp340, The Center for the Study of Rationality, Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
    3. Yaakov Kareev & Klaus Fiedler, 2003. "On the Accentuation of Contingencies: The Sensitive Research Designer versus the Intuitive Statistician," Discussion Paper Series, The Center for the Study of Rationality, Hebrew University, Jerusalem dp346, The Center for the Study of Rationality, Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
    4. Innocenti, Alessandro & Lattarulo, Patrizia & Pazienza, Maria Grazia, 2013. "Car stickiness: Heuristics and biases in travel choice," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 25(C), pages 158-168.


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