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Cognition and Chance: The Psychology of Probabilistic Reasoning [Paperback]

Raymond S. Nickerson

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Book Description

June 2 2004 0805848991 978-0805848991 1
Lack of ability to think probabilistically makes one prone to a variety of irrational fears and vulnerable to scams designed to exploit probabilistic naiveté, impairs decision making under uncertainty, facilitates the misinterpretation of statistical information, and precludes critical evaluation of likelihood claims. Cognition and Chance presents an overview of the information needed to avoid such pitfalls and to assess and respond to probabilistic situations in a rational way. Dr. Nickerson investigates such questions as how good individuals are at thinking probabilistically and how consistent their reasoning under uncertainty is with principles of mathematical statistics and probability theory. He reviews evidence that has been produced in researchers' attempts to investigate these and similar types of questions. Seven conceptual chapters address such topics as probability, chance, randomness, coincidences, inverse probability, paradoxes, dilemmas, and statistics. The remaining five chapters focus on empirical studies of individuals' abilities and limitations as probabilistic thinkers. Topics include estimation and prediction, perception of covariation, choice under uncertainty, and people as intuitive probabilists.

Cognition and Chance is intended to appeal to researchers and students in the areas of probability, statistics, psychology, business, economics, decision theory, and social dilemmas.

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Review

This book is an insightful lesson on how one's worldview affects one's thinking, even in certain mathematical applications.

Journal of Psychology and Christianity

...the book brings together many diverse sources and results on a host of topics....it could serve as a useful starting point for a new researcher beginning a study of some aspect of quantitative reasoning.
Technometrics

...for the newcomer the book provides an excellent introduction to this field of research, and the connoisseur will appreciate the book as a useful handbook allowing for quick refreshers of the many empirical results already available.
Biometrics

I liked this book a lot....Nickerson has done a fine job in putting together coherently a wide range of material...this book is remarkably well timed.
Howard Wainer, Ph.D.
Distinguished Research Scientist, National Board of Medical Examiners

This book presents a more inclusive report of the literature on probabilistic reasoning, without a specific application in mind, allowing for both broader coverage of the field, and for deeper exploration of inherently interesting and provocative reasoning and problems....The quality of scholarship...is impressive, with...classic citations as well as a diversity of perspectives representing current thinking on the problems....Business school students would probably greatly benefit from this book....As a researcher, I find this book to be a very useful collection of the research on probabilistic reasoning, and would absolutely want a copy for my own library....I could imagine using this text in a graduate or upper level undergraduate course on judgment and decision making.
Julie Downs, Ph.D.
Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University

It is comprehensive in its approach to scholarship and does not choose a single point ofview from among the usual ones. Instead, it offers wise and clever comments on the many different perspectives that exist.
Jonathan Baron, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania


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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful broad account of psychology research into how people think about chance May 27 2007
By David J. Aldous - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Useful and interesting book for several reasons. Style is midway between popular science and scholars writing for other scholars. The initial chapters recount history and the basic frequentist/Bayesian/etc philosophies of probability. The later chapters describe what experiments by psychologists like Tversky have shown about the way people think about probability -- basically, that people are illogical in different but roughly predictable ways in different contexts. The book touches upon many different topics, and gives around 1000 references, so it's an invaluable resource for seeing the big picture of what scholars have thought about, and for leads into the research literature. Downside: description of research is (to my taste) often rather vague and the author's verbal discussion is rather bland -- as if written by a committee -- rather than crisp statements followed by critical analysis.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you think you'd like this book, you probably will. Oct. 7 2012
By Chris Edwards - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book was not perfect, but I did find it very useful and interesting. Specifically I was interested in the first half which talked about the philosophical nature of issues surrounding chance and randomness. The author seemed to make a reasonably thorough survey of the paradoxes and dilemmas that arise from the various (he enumerates them) systems of thought regarding probability and chance.

I learned a lot about interesting issues in probability. I also was able to feel like I completely understood Bayes' Theorem for the first time as opposed to just going through the mechanics of it. The author strips away all of the ambiguous bits and provides some examples which are so clear cut that the core essence of Bayesian thinking is laid bare. If you need to learn Bayes Theorem, just reading chapter 4 could be worth the trip to the library.

The last 5 chapters of the book were less interesting to me. They were filled with interesting stuff to be sure, but I felt that the treatment of this material was half-hearted and better found elsewhere. It's mostly lots of Kahneman and Tversky (and their imitators) style behavioral economics experimental results. That's interesting, but the Wikipedia page on Cognitive Biases is more than sufficient for the interested reader. Slogging through an unnecessary 150 pages was also more than sufficient. The writing is good and if you had no exposure to this kind of stuff, it would be as interesting as it ever is.

My biggest complaint about the book is that it was long and the chapters were also very long. I feel like it should have been two books (one on probability and one on cognitive biases). Instead of each chapter being around 50 pages, that could have been better organized. For example chapter 9 contained a section on "Conditional Probabilities" which was surprising since there was a whole long chapter (4) on Bayesian thinking. Chapter 9 even had Bayes' Theorem again.

I must say that it was well written. It was clear and grammatically easy to read. It was filled with useful citations and quotations. Many of the topics in the early chapters were quite fascinating. If you're interested in where modern technical thinking's ability to deal with uncertainty breaks down, the first 7 chapters of this book are fantastic. If you're interested in how the human brain naturally deals (or doesn't deal) with uncertainty, the second half may be of interest. In all the first half was worth 5 stars to me.
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