How prediction promotes an illusory sense of comprehension

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We propose that individuals incorrectly interpret their accuracy in predicting an event as an indication that they understand the event’s underlying mechanism or process. We term this illusion prediction-comprehension bias (PCB) and conceptually locate it within the frameworks of attribute substitution and reverse inference logic. In a set of five studies (N = 704), we demonstrate this bias and identify three psychological factors that produce it. We manipulate the feedback participants receive about their prediction accuracy (Experiments 1-2), the consistency with which a cause and its effect are presented together (Experiment 3), and the fluency of an observation by the number of times it is repeated (Experiments 4-5). The experimental manipulation of all three factors replicates the PCB conceptually. In Experiment 5, we show a direct replication of PCB and inspect the bias’s mechanism further: We find that respondents use the perceived validity of inferring prediction from comprehension (a sound inference) as an indicator for when to draw the reverse inference (i.e., inferring comprehension from prediction) that underlies the PCB. We discuss the practical implications of this novel bias and its connection to existing illusions of comprehension like the illusory truth effect or the illusion of explanatory depth.

Ryan Watkins