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Q J Exp Psychol A. 2001 Feb;54(1):263-7.

Hypothesis testing in a rule discovery problem: when a focused procedure is effective.

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Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive et Pathologique, UPRES EA 1774, Université de Caen, Esplanade de la Paix, 14032 Caen, France.


We investigated individuals' ability to use negative evidence in hypothesis testing. We compared performance in two versions of Wason's (1960) rule discovery problem. In the original version, a triple of numbers--(2, 4, 6)--was presented as an example of a rule that the experimenter had in mind (i.e., "increasing numbers"). Participants had to discover the rule by proposing new triples. In the other version, the same triple was presented as a counter-example to the experimenter's rule (i.e., "decreasing numbers"). We predicted that, in both conditions, participants would form hypotheses based on the features of the triple, and test only instances of the hypothesized rule. However, in the counter-example condition, such focused testing would invariably produce negative evidence. As a consequence, participants would be forced to revise their hypotheses. The reported results corroborated our predictions: Participants solved the counter-example version significantly better than the original problem.

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