Prior Divergence: Do Researchers and Participants Share the Same Prior Probability Distributions?

Christina Fang, Sari Carp, and Zur Shapira

Do participants bring their own priors to an experiment? If so, do they share the same priors as the researchers who design the experiment? In this article, we examine the extent to which self-generated priors conform to experimenters' expectations by explicitly asking participants toindicate their own priors in estimating the probability of a variety of events. We find in Study 1 that despite being instructed to follow a uniform distribution, participants appear to have used their own priors, which deviated from the given instructions. Using subjects' own priors allows us to account better for their responses rather than merely to test the accuracy of their estimates. Implications for the study of judgment and decision making are discussed.

August, 2011
Published in: 
Cognitive Science 35 (2011) 744–762