Optimal data selection: revision, review, and reevaluation

Psychon Bull Rev. 2003 Jun;10(2):289-318. doi: 10.3758/bf03196492.


Since it first appeared, there has been much research and critical discussion on the theory of optimal data selection as an explanation of Wason's (1966,1968) selection task (Oaksford & Chater, 1994). In this paper, this literature is reviewed, and the theory of optimal data selection is reevaluated in its light. The information gain model is first located in the current theoretical debate in the psychology of reasoning concerning dual processes in human reasoning. A model comparison exercise is then presented that compares a revised version of the model with its theoretical competitors. Tests of the novel predictions of the model are then reviewed. This section also reviews experiments claimed not to be consistent with optimal data selection. Finally, theoretical criticisms of optimal data selection are discussed. It is argued either that the revised model accounts for them or that they do not stand up under analysis. It is concluded that some version of the optimal data selection model still provides the best account of the selection task. Consequently, the conclusion of Oaksford and Chater's (1994) original rational analysis (Anderson, 1990), that people's hypothesis-testing behavior on this task is rational and well adapted to the environment, still stands.

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Logic
  • Models, Statistical
  • Research / standards*
  • Research Design*