Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 961–968 | Cite as

The effect of iconicity of visual displays on statistical reasoning: evidence in favor of the null hypothesis

  • Miroslav Sirota
  • Lenka Kostovičová
  • Marie Juanchich
Brief Report


Knowing which properties of visual displays facilitate statistical reasoning bears practical and theoretical implications. Therefore, we studied the effect of one property of visual diplays – iconicity (i.e., the resemblance of a visual sign to its referent) – on Bayesian reasoning. Two main accounts of statistical reasoning predict different effect of iconicity on Bayesian reasoning. The ecological-rationality account predicts a positive iconicity effect, because more highly iconic signs resemble more individuated objects, which tap better into an evolutionary-designed frequency-coding mechanism that, in turn, facilitates Bayesian reasoning. The nested-sets account predicts a null iconicity effect, because iconicity does not affect the salience of a nested-sets structure—the factor facilitating Bayesian reasoning processed by a general reasoning mechanism. In two well-powered experiments (N = 577), we found no support for a positive iconicity effect across different iconicity levels that were manipulated in different visual displays (meta-analytical overall effect: log OR = −0.13, 95 % CI [−0.53, 0.28]). A Bayes factor analysis provided strong evidence in favor of the null hypothesis—the null iconicity effect. Thus, these findings corroborate the nested-sets rather than the ecological-rationality account of statistical reasoning.


Iconicity Bayesian reasoning Visual displays Nested sets Bayes factor 


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Miroslav Sirota
    • 1
  • Lenka Kostovičová
    • 2
  • Marie Juanchich
    • 3
  1. 1.Medical Decision Making and Informatics Research Group, School of MedicineKing’s College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Institute of Experimental PsychologySlovak Academy of SciencesBratislavaSlovakia
  3. 3.Kingston Business SchoolKingston UniversityLondonUK

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