Explaining increases belief revision in the face of (many) anomalies


How does explaining novel observations influence the extent to which learners revise beliefs in the face of anomalies – observations inconsistent with their beliefs? On one hand, explaining could recruit prior beliefs and reduce belief revision if learners “explain away” or discount anomalies. On the other hand, explaining could promote belief revision by encouraging learners to modify beliefs to better accommodate anomalies. We explore these possibilities in a statistical judgment task in which participants learned to rank students’ performance across courses by observing sample rankings. We manipulated whether participants were prompted to explain the rankings or to share their thoughts about them during study, and also the proportion of observations that were anomalous with respect to intuitive statistical misconceptions. Explaining promoted greater belief revision when anomalies were common, but had no effect when rare. In contrast, increasing the number of anomalies had no effect on belief revision without prompts to explain.

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