Making the uncontrollable seem controllable: the role of action in the illusion of control

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2011 Jul;64(7):1290-304. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2011.552727.


It is well known that certain variables can bias judgements about the perceived contingency between an action and an outcome, making them depart from the normative predictions. For instance, previous studies have proven that the activity level or probability of responding, P(R), is a crucial variable that can affect these judgements in objectively noncontingent situations. A possible account for the P(R) effect is based on the differential exposure to actual contingencies during the training phase, which is in turn presumably produced by individual differences in participants' P(R). The current two experiments replicate the P(R) effect in a free-response paradigm, and show that participants' judgements are better predicted by P(R) than by the actual contingency to which they expose themselves. Besides, both experiments converge with previous empirical data, showing a persistent bias that does not vanish as training proceeds. These findings contrast with the preasymptotic and transitory effect predicted by several theoretical models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illusions / physiology*
  • Judgment*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Probability
  • Students
  • Universities