The effect of explanation in simple binary decision tasks

Eric G. Taylor, David H. Landy, Brian H. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many studies of explanation have focused on higher level tasks and on how explanations draw upon relevant prior knowledge, which then helps in understanding some event or observation. However, explanations may also affect performance in simple tasks even when they include no task-relevant information. In three experiments, we show that explanations adding no task-relevant information alter performance in a sequential binary decision task. Whereas people with no explanation for why two events occurred at different rates tended to predict each outcome in proportion to their probability of occurrence (to "probability match"), people with an explanation tended to predict the more likely event more often (to "overmatch," a better strategy). These results suggest a broader view of explanation, which includes a role in shaping simple tasks outside of higher level reasoning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1361-1375
Number of pages15
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Causal reasoning
  • Decision making
  • Explanation
  • Probability matching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Physiology (medical)


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