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date: 19 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

What are your chances of being hit by lightning? Of winning the lottery? Of developing schizophrenia? The probabilities of these events, usually expressed in a percentage, are called base rates. Base rates are often calculated in clinical settings. They have important implications for a wide variety of issues in clinical practice. Although sometimes overlooked, base rates affect the prediction of behaviors (for example, suicide), the interpretation of test data (for example, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 scores), and decision making regarding diagnosis. This article discusses the need for practitioners to consider the relative frequency of phenomena (base rates) in particular clinical settings in order to make diagnoses and interpret psychological test scores appropriately. First, it explains what base rates are, and then discusses base rates and predictive power, implications of base rates for clinical practice and test use, and how to use base rates in daily clinical decision making.

Keywords: base rates, clinical decision making, clinical practice, prediction, diagnosis, psychological test, predictive power

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