A dilution effect without dilution

A dilution effect without dilution: When missing evidence, not non-diagnostic evidence, is judged inaccurately

Adam N.Sanborn, Takao Noguchi, James Tripp, Neil Stewart


March 31, 2020

Paper link

A paper from my post-doc.


When asked to combine two pieces of evidence, one diagnostic and one non-diagnostic, people show a dilution effect: the addition of non-diagnostic evidence dilutes the overall strength of the evidence. This non-normative effect has been found in a variety of tasks and has been taken as evidence that people inappropriately combine information. In a series of five experiments, we found the dilution effect, but surprisingly it was not due to the inaccurate combination of diagnostic and non-diagnostic information. Because we have objectively correct answers for our task, we could see that participants were relatively accurate in judging diagnostic evidence combined with non-diagnostic evidence, but overestimated the strength of diagnostic evidence alone. This meant that the dilution effect – the gap between diagnostic evidence alone and diagnostic evidence combined with non-diagnostic evidence – was not caused by dilution. We hypothesized that participants were filling in “missing” evidence in a biased fashion when presented with diagnostic evidence alone. This hypothesis best explained the experimental results.