Implicit Statistical Learning in Real-World Environments Leads to Ecologically Rational Decision Making

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Ecological rationality results from matching decision strategies to appropriate environmental structures, but how does the matching happen? We propose that people learn the statistical structure of the environment through observation and use this learned structure to guide ecologically rational behavior. We tested this hypothesis in the context of organic foods. In Study 1, we found that products from healthful food categories are more likely to be organic than products from nonhealthful food categories. In Study 2, we found that consumers’ perceptions of the healthfulness and prevalence of organic products in many food categories are accurate. Finally, in Study 3, we found that people perceive organic products as more healthful than nonorganic products when the statistical structure justifies this inference. Our findings suggest that people believe organic foods are more healthful than nonorganic foods and use an organic-food cue to guide their behavior because organic foods are, on average, 30% more healthful.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychological Science
Pages (from-to)34-44
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • decision making
  • ecological rationality
  • eye tracking
  • field study
  • implicit statistical learning
  • open data
  • open materials
  • Decision Making
  • Food Preferences
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Male
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Learning
  • Young Adult
  • Food, Organic
  • Adolescent
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Aged


Dive into the research topics of 'Implicit Statistical Learning in Real-World Environments Leads to Ecologically Rational Decision Making'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this