Confirming a Hunch: Do People Seek Information to Confirm Their Inferences?

Shawn Obarski, “Confirming a Hunch: Do People Seek Information to Confirm Their Inferences?”
Mentor: Caitlin Bowman, Psychology
Poster #99

Generalization is an important facet of memory that allows an individual to apply previous experiences to new situations. Acquired equivalence is one type of generalization: after learning two items share one association (e.g., Shawn and Cait live near Lake Michigan), people assume those items also share other associations (e.g., Shawn water skis, so Cait does too). Some have proposed that inferred associations (Cait-water ski) are represented in memory the same way as direct associations (Shawn-Lake, Cait-Lake, Shawn-water ski). However, it is also possible that inferences are treated differently since they have not been confirmed by direct experience. In the present study we asked, do individuals seek to confirm their inferences? To address this question, we designed an acquired equivalence task based on the board game Clue. Participants were instructed to learn details, such as the suspect, location, and object used during a crime. During the study phase, participants were shown face – scene and face – object associations. Each scene was associated with two faces (face 1, face 2), serving as the link between those individuals. Only face 1 was associated with an object during study. To determine whether individuals seek to confirm inferences, participants chose one of the face and object/scene pairs to learn more about. If participants seek to confirm their inferences, they should choose to learn more information about the face2-object pairing. Results show that participants make the face 2 – object inference at above-chance levels, but this association is weaker than for directly learned pairings. However, participants do not choose to learn more about inferred associations when given the opportunity. Instead, they often choose to learn more about their best learned direct association. Thus, individuals may not take the opportunity to reinforce their inferences or other weakly learned information and instead choose to re-study already-learned information.