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Illusion of Control

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 5 months ago

Notes on Illusion of Control

Text I contributed to WikiPedia's entry:


One kind of demonstration involves a set-up with two lights marked "Score" and "No Score". Subjects have to try to control which one switches on. Jenkins & Ward (1965) presented subjects with two buttons to press. Allan & Jenkins (1980) had one button, which subjects decided on each trial to press or not press. The connections could be arranged so that each action switches on one light with a given probability, so subjects had zero control over which light is on, or a variable amount of control. Subjects were told that there might be no relation between their actions and the lights.


Subjects were asked to estimate how much control they had over the lights. Their estimates bore no relation to how much control they actually had, but was related to how often the "Score" light lit up. Even when it made no matter what they chose, subjects confidently reported exerting some control over the lights.


Illusion of Control is discussed in a chapter by Suzanne C. Thompson in Cognitive Illusions: A Handbook on Fallacies and Biases edited by Rudiger Pohl, as well as in sections 14.3.2 and 14.3.3. of Baron's Thinking and Deciding.


Langer, Ellen J. (1975) "The illusion of control" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol 32(2) 311-328. Extracts reprinted in Kahneman & Tversky's Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases


Conducted a series of 6 studies involving 631 adults to elucidate the "illusion of control" phenomenon, defined as an expectancy of a personal success probability inappropriately higher than the objective probability would warrant. It was predicted that factors from skill situations (competition, choice, familiarity, involvement) introduced into chance situations would cause Ss to feel inappropriately confident. In Study 1 Ss cut cards against either a confident or a nervous competitor; in Study 2 lottery participants were or were not given a choice of ticket; in Study 3 lottery participants were or were not given a choice of either familiar or unfamiliar lottery tickets; in Study 4, Ss in a novel chance game either had or did not have practice and responded either by themselves or by proxy; in Study 5 lottery participants at a racetrack were asked their confidence at different times; finally, in Study 6 lottery participants either received a single 3-digit ticket or 1 digit on each of 3 days. Indicators of confidence in all 6 studies supported the prediction.


Langer, Ellen J.; Jane Roth (1975) "Heads I win, tails it's chance: The illusion of control as a function of the sequence of outcomes in a purely chance task." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 32(6) 951-955


Studied attributions in a purely chance task (predicting coin tosses) as a function of either a descending, ascending, or random sequence of outcomes and as a function of whether the S performed the task himself or observed another S performing the task. A primary effect was predicted; early successes would induce a skill orientation towards the task. Data from 90 male undergraduates support the prediction. Ss in the descending condition rated themselves as significantly better at predicting the outcomes of coin tosses than Ss in either of the other 2 groups. This group also overremembered past successes and expected more future successes than the other 2 groups. Involvement had the effect of increasing Ss' expectations of future successes and tended to increase their evaluation of their past performance.



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