Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Pseudocontingencies Derived from Categorically Organized Memory Representations

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Pseudocontingencies Derived from Categorically Organized Memory Representations

Article excerpt

Published online: 6 June 2013

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Pseudocontingencies (PCs) allow for inferences about the contingency between two variables X and Y when the conditions for genuine contingency assessment are not met. Even when joint observations Xi and Yi about the same reference objects i are not available or are detached in time or space, the correlation r(Xi,Yi) is readily inferred from base rates. Inferred correlations are positive (negative) if X and Y base rates are skewed in the same (different) directions. Such PC inferences afford useful proxies for actually existing contingencies. While previous studies have focused on PCs due to environmental base rates, the present research highlights memory organization as a natural source of PC effects. When information about two attributes X and Y is represented in a hierarchically organized categorical memory code, as category-wise base rates p(X) and p(Y), the reconstruction of item-level information from category base rates will naturally produce PC effects. Three experiments support this contention. When the yes base rates of two respondents in four questionnaire subscales (categories) were correlated, recalled and predicted item-level responses were correlated in the same direction, even when the original responses to specific items within categories were correlated in the opposite direction.

Keywords Deductive reasoning * Memory organization * Categorization * Contingency learning

Contingency assessment as a major adaptive function

A new research program on pseudocontingencies (PCs) challenges the common belief in contingencies as the chief module of adaptive learning (Fiedler, 2010; Fiedler & Freytag, 2004; Fiedler, Freytag, & Meiser, 2009; Freytag, Bluemke, & Fiedler, 2011). Contingency learning is presupposed to underlie causal inferences (Cheng & Nowick, 1992), conditioning (Murphy & Baker, 2004), concept formation (Richardson & Bhavnani, 1984), stereotyping (McCauley & Stitt, 1978), multicue inferences (Lagnado, Newell, Kahan, & Shanks, 2006), and fast and frugal heuristics (Gigerenzer & Todd, 1999) in the context of Brunswik's (1952) lens model.

However, closer examination of learning environments reveals that the conditions for proper contingency assess- ment are hardly ever met. Causes and effects can rarely be observed in close temporal succession; multiple cues are often confounded and hard to disentangle; and the environ- ment rarely provides us with the complete multivariate data and nonselective feedback that are necessary to identify all cue correlations. For example, a typical get-acquainted task calls for inferences about when and why a target person answers "yes" or "no" in response to different utterances or communicative actions. The person's positive or negative affective responses may depend on a multitude of cues, such as the attractiveness and the voice of communication part- ners, their status as friends or opponents, their gender, the hedonic quality of the utterances, their consistency with the person's own political attitudes, or their touching a threat- ening aspect of the person's self. However, for various reasons, the multivariate data matrix that would be neces- sary to assess the correlations between all these cues and the criterion is incomplete and impoverished. Only some utter- ances are, in reality, met with an overt and immediate feedback. Delayed feedback (e.g., the person's reaction on the next day, in a new context) is detached from a specific set of eliciting cues. Many cues are often missing (e.g., telephone calls do not reveal attractiveness, e-mails have no voice) or remain unknown (e.g., social status) or irrele- vant (utterances are politically mute). Or information about different cues (e.g., reactions to political attitudes and to gender) is learned on separate occasions, making it impos- sible to locate connected cue values within the same com- pact matrix. …

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