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Superstition could affect eye exams

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 4/08/2016

Superstition can hold sway over many aspects of human life, even eye tests.

Research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that people cannot avoid using their past decisions to inform their current choices.

Ways to counteract this to make better measures of performance are presented in the study, conducted at University College London and Stanford University in collaboration with Professor Steven Dakin, head of optometry and vision science at Auckland University.

Dr Dakin says some people having eye examinations could be affecting results because of a natural tendency to base responses on past decisions.

"Successfully adapting to our environment means we use information about our past successes and failures to make better decisions in the future," he said.

"But sometimes the outcomes of past experiences are not helpful and taking them into account leads to worse decisions."

Dr Dakin said the study found that people's choices were influenced by the success or failure of past choices, even where this history was irrelevant.

"For example, many people switch their decision following a failure, even though such superstitious behaviour makes them perform poorly," he said.

"Our study shows that it's a rigid response system. Even when it's not to your advantage, you can't help but incorporate past decisions in your decision making."

Dr Dakin said the irrational tendency to rely on past decisions was important because vision and hearing tests assumed that people were rational.

Without accommodating individual biases, the test results could look worse than they really were.

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