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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Why do People fit to Benford’s Law? – A Test of the Recognition Hypothesis


Burns & Krygier (2015) demonstrated that people could exhibit a strong bias towards the smaller first digits, in a way similar to that described by Benford’s law. This paper sought to expand the scope of this phenomenon and to test a possible explanation, the Recognition Hypothesis that a Benford bias is due to life-long environmental exposure to this statistical relationship. Participants completed three numerical tasks: A Generation Task requiring answering trivia questions; a Selection Task requiring selecting between two numerical responses; and an Estimation task requiring estimating the number of jelly beans in a jar. The results found no evidence of any first digit effect in the Recognition Task, some evidence of Benford bias in the Generation Task and strong evidence in the Estimation Task. Future research should focus on alternatives to the Recognition Hypothesis and investigate the parameters of Benford bias in generation tasks

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