Persistence of repeated self-reported illusion of control as a product of action and outcome association in productive and preventive scenarios
Individuals interpret themselves as causal agents when executing an action to achieve an outcome, even when action and outcome are independent. How can illusion of control be managed? Once established, does it decay? This study aimed to analyze the effects of valence, probability of the outcome [p(O)] and probability of the actions performed by the participant [p(A)], on the magnitude of judgments of control and corresponding associative measures (including Rescorla–Wagner’s, Probabilistic Contrast, and Cheng’s Power Probabilistic Contrast models). A traffic light was presented on a computer screen to 81 participants who tried to control the green or red lights by pressing the spacebar, after instructions describing a productive or a preventive scenario. There were 4 blocks of 50 trials under all of 4 different p(O)s in random order (0.10, 0.30, 0.70, and 0.90). Judgments were assessed in a bidimensional scale. The 2 × 4 × 4 mixed experimental design was analyzed through General Linear Models, including factor group (between-subject valence), and block and p(O) (within subjects). There was a small effect of group and a large and direct effect of p(O) on judgments. Illusion was reported by 66% of the sample and was positive in the productive group. The oscillation of p(O) produced stronger illusions; decreasing p(O)s produced nil or negative illusions. Only Rescorla–Wagner’s could model causality properly. The reasons why p(A) and the other models could not generate significant results are discussed. The results help to comprehend the importance of keeping moderate illusions in productive and preventive scenarios.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
This study was financed by the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior—Brasil (CAPES)—Finance Code 001, grant number 1,364,428. The content is associated with and the published results are part of the doctoral thesis of the first author, Behavioral and psychophysiological measures on illusion of control in productive and preventive scenarios and in the context of safety risks in Programa de Pós-Graduação em Psicologia of Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul and in Programa de Doctorado em Psicología de Universidad de Granada. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. The study has been approved by the UFRGS Instituto de Psicologia Research Ethics Committee and has been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. Any original materials used to conduct the research (including all primary data) will be made available to the journal and other researchers for purposes of replicating the procedure or reproducing the results; they can be obtained from the first author upon reasonable request (via email to: email@example.com). The authors would like to thank Fernando Blanco and Helena Matute, who kindly provided the original E-Prime light bulb task script to be adapted for the current experiment; and Adriane Ribeiro Teixeira and Pricila Sleifer, from Laboratório de Audiologia do Curso de Fonoaudiologia da UFRGS, where data were collected.
- Benvenuti, M. F. L., de Toledo, T. F. N., Simões, R. A. G., & Bizarro, L. (2017). Comparing illusion of control and superstitious behavior: rate of responding influences judgment of control in a free-operant procedure. Learning and Motivation. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lmot.2017.10.002.Google Scholar
- Cheng, P. W., & Holyoak, K. J. (1995). Complex adaptive systems as intuitive statisticians: Causality contingency, and prediction. In J. -A. Meyer & H. Roitblat (Eds.), Comparative approaches to cognition (pp. 271–302). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Cheng, P. W., Park, J., Yarlas, A. S., & Holyoak, K. J. (1996). A causal-power theory of focal sets. In D. R. Shanks, K. J. Holyoak & D. L. Medin (Eds.), The psychology of learning and motivation: causal learning (Vol (34, pp. 313–355). San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
- Chou, Y. M., Polansky, A. M., & Mason, R. L. (1998). Transforming nonnormal data to normality in statistical process control. Journal of Quality Technology, 30(2), 133.Google Scholar
- Coventry, K. R., & Norman, A. C. (1998). Arousal, erroneous verbalizations and the illusion of control during a computer-generated gambling task. British Journal of Psychology, 89(4), 629–645. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8295.1998.tb02707.x.Google Scholar
- Lober, K., & Shanks, D. R. (1999). Experimental falsification of Cheng’s (1997) power PC theory of causal induction. Psychological Review. Retrieved from ftp://ftp.repec.org/opt/ReDIF/RePEc/els/esrcls/PowerPC.pdf.
- Matute, H. (1996). Illusion of control: detecting response-outcome independence in analytic but not in naturalistic conditions. Psychological Science, 7, 289–293. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.1996.tb00376.x.Google Scholar
- Matute, H., Vadillo, M. A., Blanco, F., & Musca, S. C. (2007, January). Either greedy or well informed: The reward maximization–unbiased evaluation trade-off. In Proceedings of the European Cognitive Science Conference (pp. 341–346). Hove, UK: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Msetfi, R. M., Murphy, R. A., Simpson, J., & Kornbrot, D. E. (2005). Depressive realism and outcome density bias in contingency judgments: the effect of the context and intertrial interval. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 134, 10–22. https://doi.org/10.1037/0096-34126.96.36.199.Google Scholar
- Presson, P. K., & Benassi, V. A. (1996). Illusion of control: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Social Behavior & Personality, 11(3), 493–510.Google Scholar
- Rescorla, R. A., & Wagner, A. R. (1972). A theory of pavlovian conditioning: variations in the effectiveness of reinforcement and nonreinforcement. Classical conditioning II: Current research and theory, 2, 64–99.Google Scholar