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 


Author note

We thank Cathleen Moore and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.


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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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