True contextuality in a psychophysical experiment

Víctor H. Cervantes, Ehtibar N. Dzhafarov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent crowdsourcing experiments have shown that true contextuality of the kind found in quantum mechanics can also be present in human behavior. In these experiments simple human choices were aggregated over large numbers of respondents, with each respondent dealing with a single context (set of questions asked). In this paper we present experimental evidence of contextuality in individual human behavior, in a psychophysical experiment with repeated presentations of visual stimuli in randomly varying conteXts (arrangements of stimuli). The analysis is based on the Contextuality-by-Default (CbD)theory whose relevant aspects are reviewed in the paper. CbD allows one to detect contextuality in the presence of direct influences, i.e., when responses to the same stimuli have different distributions in different contexts. The experiment presented is also the first one in which contextuality is demonstrated for responses that are not dichotomous, with five options to choose among. CbD requires that random variables representing such responses be dichotomized before they are subjected to contextuality analysis. A theorem says that a system consisting of all possible dichotomizations of responses has to be contextual if these responses violate a certain condition, called nominal dominance. In our experiment nominal dominance was violated in all data sets, with very high statistical reliability established by bootstrapping.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-127
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Mathematical Psychology
StatePublished - Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Contextuality
  • Inconsistent connectedness
  • Nominal dominance
  • Psychophysics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Applied Mathematics


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