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Pseudocontingencies – A key paradigm for understanding adaptive cognition

Klaus Fiedler
University of Heidelberg , Germany

The present paper is concerned with an overlooked illusion named pseudocontingency (PC). This illusion is related to the statistical phenomenon of ecological correlations: For instance, whereas the correlation between race and illiteracy across individual persons is close to zero, the correlation between race baserates and illiteracy baserates across districts or environments can be very high. By analogy, PC illusions in contingency assessment is influenced, and often strongly biased, by group or category baserates. In this paper, I describe several experiments that demonstrate the nature and scope of the PC illusion. I place it in the context of a number of related problems that share, as a common theoretical denominator, the existence of different rational solutions at different levels of aggregation (such as Simpson's paradox, dilemma games, or group decision making). PC illusions are also apparent in psychological research and theorizing. The final discussion is devoted to explaining the adaptive value of the PC illusion, in spite of the serious errors and biases it produces under many conditions.