Agency affects adults', but not children's, guessing preferences in a game of chance

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • AJL Harris
  • MG Rowley
  • Sarah Beck
  • EJ Robinson
  • KL McColgan

Colleges, School and Institutes


Adults and children have recently been shown to prefer guessing the outcome of a die roll after the die has been rolled (but remained out of sight) rather than before it has been rolled. This result is contrary to the predictions of the competence hypothesis (Heath&Tversky, 1991), which proposes that people are sensitive to the degree of their relative ignorance and therefore prefer to guess about an outcome it is impossible to know, rather than one that they could know, but do not. We investigated the potential role of agency in guessing preferences about a novel game of chance. When the experimenter controlled the outcome, we replicated the finding that adults and 5- to 6-year-old children preferred to make their guess after the outcome had been determined. For adults only, this preference reversed when they exerted control over the outcome about which they were guessing. The adult data appear best explained by a modified version of the competence hypothesis that highlights the notion of control or responsibility. It is proposed that potential attributions of blame are related to the guesser's role in determining the outcome. The child data were consistent with an imagination-based account of guessing preferences.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1772-1787
Number of pages16
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


  • Developmental, Uncertainty, Competence hypothesis, Games of chance, Agency