Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Hot-Hand Fallacy in Cognitive Control: Repetition Expectancy Modulates the Congruency Sequence Effect

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

The Hot-Hand Fallacy in Cognitive Control: Repetition Expectancy Modulates the Congruency Sequence Effect

Article excerpt

Published online: 1 February 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract In this study, the role of expectancies in cognitive control was tested. On the basis of the original interpretation of the congruency sequence effect (Gratton, Coles, & Donchin, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 121:480-506, 1992), we sought evidence for a repetition bias steering atten- tional control. In a series of four Stroop experiments, we investigated how participants' explicit predictions about the upcoming (in)congruency proactively influenced subsequent Stroop performance. Similar to the fallacious "hot-hand" belief in gambling, repeating stimulus events were overpredicted, as participants consistently expected more repetitions of the con- gruency level than the actual presented number of congruency- level repetitions (50 %). Moreover, behavioral adjustments (i.e., a congruency sequence effect) were only found when participants anticipated a congruency-level repetition, whereas no modulation of the Stroop effect was found following alter- nation predictions. We propose that proactive control processes in general, and repetition expectancy in particular, should be given more attention in current theorizing and modeling of cognitive control, which is characterized by an emphasis on reactive, conflict-induced control adjustments.

Keywords Proactive cognitive control · Expectancy bias · Congruency sequence effect · Choice behavior

Cognitive control allows us to adaptively adjust to an ever- changing environment. Therefore, the cognitive system not only monitors the environment, it also generates predictions. Research has predominantly focused on the monitoring as- pect, by studying reactive, postconflict adjustments. Recent influential models (e.g., Alexander & Brown, 2011) have stressed the importance of learning on the basis of prediction- driven outcomes. Still, experimental work on how expectan- cies can steer attentional control is relatively scarce.

Human predictions themselves have been widely investi- gated. Kahneman, Slovic, and Tversky (1982), for instance, convincingly showed that predictions are inherently biased. When predicting random events, people often expect too many alternations (Nickerson, 2002). Faced with a run of "heads" in coin tossing, for example, the gambler will believe that the ran will be broken {the gambler's fallacy). On the other hand, one expects a winning poker player to keep on winning (the hot-hand fallacy). According to Kareev (1995), human predictive behavior reveals a tendency toward expecting repeating events, in line with the hot-hand fallacy.

These biased predictions can influence reaction times (RTs) in relatively simple tasks. In serial two-choice RT tasks, for example, responses to stimulus repetitions are typically faster than responses to stimulus alternations (e.g., Remington, 1969). Soetens, Boer, and Hueting (1985) explained this repetition effect in terms of subjective expectancy. However, once the intertriai interval was suffi- ciently stretched, Soetens et al. demonstrated an alternation effect, corresponding to faster responses to different than to repeated stimuli. These authors assumed that, in accordance with the gambler's fallacy, participants expect too many alternations in a random ran of binary stimuli.

According to Gratton et al. (1992), biased expectancies also drive the congruency sequence, or Gratton, effect. Applying a flanker task, in which participants have to react to a central target flanked by either congruent (< < <) or incongruent (> < >) flankers, they found a reduced congruen- cy effect after incongruent trials. The authors theorized that these sequential modulations reflect strategic adjustments in cognitive control. Gratton et al. presumed a congruency rep- etition bias: Despite objectively equal chances of encountering a congruent (C) or an incongruent (I) trial, participants tend to expect easy (congruent) trials after easy trials, and difficult (incongruent) trials after difficult trials. …

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