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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Information sampling explains Bayesian learners’ biases in correlation judgment


Correlation judgments are at the core of belief formation. In previous studies of correlation judgment from 2D scatterplots, observers underestimate correlations, and display stronger underestimation biases when the scatterplot is shown in a landscape view than in a portrait view. Yet, it is unclear how these biases arise. Here, we propose that observers are Bayesian learners who perform “mental regression” using the observed data points in graph. Accordingly, judgment errors can arise from biased visual information sampling. We test our model’s predictions with two eye-tracking experiments and find that the Bayesian learning model, applied to information obtained from visual fixation data, replicates classic behavioral findings. The model also predicts trial-level estimation biases at a high accuracy level. Our study shows how computational models trained on process-level data can shed light on the cognitive mechanisms underlying belief formation, and yield theory-driven practical implications for data visualization and statistical communication.

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