A quantum probability account of order effects in inference

Cogn Sci. 2011 Nov-Dec;35(8):1518-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01197.x. Epub 2011 Sep 26.


Order of information plays a crucial role in the process of updating beliefs across time. In fact, the presence of order effects makes a classical or Bayesian approach to inference difficult. As a result, the existing models of inference, such as the belief-adjustment model, merely provide an ad hoc explanation for these effects. We postulate a quantum inference model for order effects based on the axiomatic principles of quantum probability theory. The quantum inference model explains order effects by transforming a state vector with different sequences of operators for different orderings of information. We demonstrate this process by fitting the quantum model to data collected in a medical diagnostic task and a jury decision-making task. To further test the quantum inference model, a new jury decision-making experiment is developed. Using the results of this experiment, we compare the quantum inference model with two versions of the belief-adjustment model, the adding model and the averaging model. We show that both the quantum model and the adding model provide good fits to the data. To distinguish the quantum model from the adding model, we develop a new experiment involving extreme evidence. The results from this new experiment suggest that the adding model faces limitations when accounting for tasks involving extreme evidence, whereas the quantum inference model does not. Ultimately, we argue that the quantum model provides a more coherent account for order effects that was not possible before.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem*
  • Cognitive Science
  • Decision Making
  • Decision Theory*
  • Humans
  • Logic
  • Logistic Models*
  • Mental Processes
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Probability Learning*
  • Probability Theory*
  • Problem Solving