The Psychology of Human Entropy Intuitions

AbstractA variety of conceptualizations of psychological uncertainty exist. From an information-theoretic perspective, probabilistic uncertainty can be formalized as mathematical entropy. Cognitive emotion theories posit that uncertainty appraisals and motivation to reduce uncertainty are modulated by emotional state. Yet little is known about how people evaluate probabilistic uncertainty, and about how emotional state modulates people's evaluations of probabilistic uncertainty and behavior to reduce probabilistic uncertainty. We tested intuitive entropy evaluations and entropy reduction strategies across four emotion conditions in the Entropy Mastermind game. We used the unified Sharma-Mittal space of entropy measures to quantify participants' entropy evaluations. Results suggest that many people use a heuristic strategy, focusing on the number of possible outcomes, irrespective of the probabilities in the probability distribution. This result is surprising, given that previous work suggested that people are very sensitive to the maximum probability when choosing queries on probabilistic classification tasks. Emotion induction generally increased participants' heuristic assessment. The uncertainty associated with emotional states also affected game play: participants needed fewer queries and spent less time on games in high-uncertainty than in low-uncertainty emotional states. Yet entropy perceptions were not related to subjectively reported uncertainty, numeracy or entropy knowledge, suggesting that entropy perceptions may form an independent psychological construct.

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