Basic and Applied Memory Research: Practical Applications - Vol. 2

By Douglas J. Herrmann; Cathy McEvoy et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE Estimating Frequency: A Multiple-Strategy Perspective

Frederick G. Conrad
Bureau of Labor Statistics

Norman R. Brown
University of Alberta

People are often required to judge the frequency of everyday events. For example, we are likely to consider the frequency of particular disasters when deciding whether to purchase insurance, or the number of phone calls we typically make in order to select appropriate telephone service. In addition, policymakers and market researchers rely on survey data based on people's responses to behavioral frequency questions, for example, "During the last month how many times did you receive treatment from a medical doctor?" Because frequency judgments are a part of everyday life, they have recently been explored by applied researchers. In particular, studies of how survey respondents answer behavioral frequency questions have identified several distinct strategies, and some of the conditions under which these strategies are used (e.g., Blair & Burton, 1987; Burton & Blair, 1991; Conrad, Brown, & Cashman, 1993; Menon, 1993). Based on this research, it is evident that people rely on multiple strategies in order to perform a particular estimation task.

Basic researchers in psychology have also studied the processes by which people estimate frequency. Laboratory research has identified a wide variety of strategies, but each study has tended to examine a single strategy. For example, Barsalou and Ross ( 1986) provided evidence that subjects retrieve and count category instances when reporting category frequency--an "enumeration" strategy; Hintzman ( 1988) modeled frequency judgments as a comparison of a target item's similarity to exemplars in memory--a similarity principle; and Tversky and Kahneman ( 1973) demonstrated that people use the ease of retrieving instances as a key to frequency--the availability heu-

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