### Burns, B (2009)

#### Sensitivity to statistical regularities: People (largely) follow Benford’s law

pp 2872-2877 in: Proceedings of CogSci 2009, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

**ISSN/ISBN:** Not available at this time.
**DOI:** Not available at this time.

**Abstract:** Recent decision making research has emphasized people’s sensitivity to statistical relationships in the environment. A little-known relationship is Benford’s law, that the first digitsof numbers representing many natural and human phenomena have a logarithmic distribution (Benford, 1938). Benford’s law is being used to help detect fraudulent financial data, butthis assumes that people will not follow Benford’s law whengenerating data. In two studies I examined whether people follow Benford’s law. In Study 1 participants were given nine questions (e.g., “Length of the Indus river: km”) chosen tohave a flat distribution of first-digits for correct answers. The generated distribution was close to Benford’s law. In Study 2 the results for generated data were replicated with newquestions, and a selection task was also given in which participants selected from nine possible answers. Selected answers were a poor fit to Benford’s law. Taken together the results suggest that Benford’s law is a product of the way people generate responses, rather than sensitivity to the relationship itself.

**Bibtex:**

```
@inproceedings{,
AUTHOR={Bruce D. Burns},
TITLE={Sensitivity to statistical regularities: People (largely) follow Benford’s law},
BOOKTITLE={Proceedings of the 2009 CogSci Conference},
ADDRESS={Amsterdam, The Netherlands},
YEAR={2009},
URL={http://csjarchive.cogsci.rpi.edu/Proceedings/2009/papers/637/paper637.pdf},
}
```

**Reference Type:** Conference Paper

**Subject Area(s):** Psychology, Statistics