When Falsification is the Only Path to Truth

Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Vol. 27, 2005, Full Paper.

7 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2013 Last revised: 18 Jul 2019

See all articles by Michelle B. Cowley-Cunningham

Michelle B. Cowley-Cunningham

Royal Statistical Society; University of Oxford - CSLS Centre for Socio-Legal Studies

Ruth Byrne

Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin, Ireland

Date Written: February 12, 2005

Abstract

Can people consistently attempt to falsify, that is, search for refuting evidence, when testing the truth of hypotheses? Experimental evidence indicates that people tend to search for confirming evidence. We report two novel experiments that show that people can consistently falsify when it is the only helpful strategy. Experiment 1 showed that participants readily falsified somebody else’s hypothesis. Their task was to test a hypothesis belonging to an ‘imaginary participant’ and they knew it was a low quality hypothesis. Experiment 2 showed that participants were able to falsify a low quality hypothesis belonging to an imaginary participant more readily than their own low quality hypothesis. The results have important implications for theories of hypothesis testing and human rationality.

Suggested Citation

Cowley-Cunningham, Michelle B. and Byrne, Ruth, When Falsification is the Only Path to Truth (February 12, 2005). Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Vol. 27, 2005, Full Paper.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2339585

Michelle B. Cowley-Cunningham (Contact Author)

Royal Statistical Society ( email )

12 Errol Street
London, EC1Y 8LX
United Kingdom

University of Oxford - CSLS Centre for Socio-Legal Studies ( email )

Wellington Square
Oxford, OX1 2JD
United Kingdom

Ruth Byrne

Trinity College Dublin, University of Dublin, Ireland ( email )

Dublin
Ireland

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