Role of Coincidence and Probability Judgement

  • Created by: Ross Hill
  • Created on: 18-02-15 14:26


Coincidences--> When 2 unrelated events correspond (co incidents) 

No obvious relationship between the 2 events

However, a belief forms creating a cognitive bias where it is believed one event causes the other known as a casual relatiionship

Coincidence can lead to superstitious beliefs --> psychology of contiguity --> 2 phenomena linked in the mind

People think they can control things that in reality they have no control over in attempt of the mind to makw the world a more orderly place

General cognitive ability or intelligence is lower in belivers and thus they are less able to accurately judge whether a paranormal event in fact has a normal explanation

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Coincidence Research Support

Zusne & Jones (1989);

  • Studied people and whether they thought about someone 5 mins before they died
  • Found in the USA that 3,000 people would experience it by chance
  • Concluded that Paranormal experience can be explained by chance

Faulk (1982,1989);

  • Extraordinary coincidences are singled out when they occur and given a significant status
  • Suggests there is a bias in cognitive processing

Egocentric Bias= Unlikely coicidecnes are considered more significant when they happen to us (ALL ABOUT YOU)

Whiston and Galinksy (2008);

  • participants detect patterns where there were none and form an illusory correlation between unrelated events
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Coincidence Research Criticism

Does coincidence even exist?

Chopra (2003);

  • All events can be related to unseen or prior causes/associations
  • This view is becoming accepeted by scientists 

Evans (1973);

  • 67% scientists argue that ESP is a 'establishged fact' or a 'likely possibility' 

Thalbourne (1998) non- believers are not as creative and thus fail to see meaningful connections whereas believers do.

Brugger et al (1990) found that people with high levels of dopamine in their brain are more likely to find significance in coincidence and pick out meaning when their is none. When non believers were given a drug that increased dopamine levels they act more like believers

Calacuation of coincidences depend on memories- track record must be kept of previous experiences/occurences. BUT there are many issues with memories; Subject to error, False memories, Biased, Wishful thinking, Suggestion

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Probability Misjudgements

Probability--> likelihood of an event occuring e.g. Horse to win race

Many people misjudge the probability of unrelated events occuring and think that its paranormal

                 e.g. Thinking about a person and then they ring you or a dream cominng true                          is also thought to be paranormal

Believers underestimate the probability that certain events may happen by chance --> reject coincidence and instead attribute casuality

More probability misjudgements happen if your are a believer 

If related to yourself your are more likely to believe it is paranormal

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Probability Misjudgements Research Support

Langer and Roth (1975);

  • Early success at a task enhances an illusion of control
  • Participants believe that skill was involved
  • Biased in success recall develops which contributes to a belief in ESP

Paulus (1988);

  • Believers are more likely to consider dreams as predictive of future events if a dream happens and then it comes true in the future
  • Shows a poor estimation of probabilities leading to Paranormal beliefs

Blackemore and Trosianko (1987);

  • Reptition Avoidance--> asked to produce a string of random numbers and the number of repitions was counted. Found People who underestimate probability were less likely to produce consecutive repitions
  • Question about probability
  • Conjuction Fallacy-->descriptions of occasions where 2 events co-occur. Belivers made more conjuction errors than non belivers
  • Concluded- Paranormal experiences are a cognitive illusion resulting from failure to accuratey judge probability
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Probability Misjudgements Research Criticism

Although many studies find a difference in probability estimation between believers and non believers not all do suggesting this area is not fully understood and methodology flawed

Susan Blackemore (1997);

  • Over 6,000 participants had to idnetify which of 10 statements were true for them
  • Participants asked to identify the umber true for person slected at random in the street
  • Found 2.42 ststements true for themselves and 3.57 true for others
  • People who belived in ESP scored higher for themselves and others but the difference compared to non belivers is the same
  • Concluded that probability misjudgement does not explain paranormal belief

Correlation show cannot establish a cause and effect can only establish a realtionship between beliveing in ESP and probability misjudgements 

Low cognitive ability is the cause of poor probability misjudgements not PSI Phenomena

Different lieuristsics and not a misjudgement e.g. more likely for a Gambler to say head if a tail had come up 3 times becuase they believe its more likely when in reality it isnt (Gambler's Fallacy)

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