Intelligence and the Tri-Process Model of Cognition

The immediately preceding post was on the Flynn Effect, which referred to a 3-point increase in IQ scores over the course of each decade since 1930. However, Flynn himself did not think that there had been an actual increase in intelligence over time, but rather an increase in IQ scores. Criticisms of the IQ test are nothing new. Stanovich has been criticizing the IQ test for years and has started research to address this shortcoming (enter “Stanovich” into the healthymemory blog search box to find more posts on Stanovich).

Stanovich (2011) is doing this by building on Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition (See the healthymemory blog post “The Two System View of Cognition”). System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1. Learning is associative and slow. For something to become a System 1 process requires much repetition and practice. Activities such as walking, driving, and conversation are primarily System 1 processes. They occur rapidly and with little apparent effort. We would not have survived if we could not do these types of processes rapidly. But this speed of processing is purchased at a cost, the possibility of errors, biases, and illusions.

System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through.

It is clear that System 2 is very important and covers a lot of territory, but there remains much to be done to develop System 2. This is precisely what Stanovich is doing. He calls System 1 the Autonomous Mind. System 2 is divided into what Stanovich terms the Algorithmic Mind and the Reflective Mind. It is the Reflective Mind that catches errors in System 1 processing. However, the Algorithmic Mind can still commit errors and terminate processing prematurely. The algorithmic mind engages in serial associative cognition. Consider the now famous bat and ball problem. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 total. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? The mind tends to offer the answer $0.10 because the answer seems simple, just the parsing of the $1 from the $0.10 In fact, 50% of Princeton students and 56% of the students at the University of Michigan came up with this answer. But this answer is wrong. If the bat costs $1 more than the ball and the ball costs $0.10, then the bat would cost $1.10, which when added to the ball cost would reach $1.20. The correct answer is $0.05. That would mean that the bat costs $1.05, and the two added together would yield the desired $1.10. Now if the Reflective Mind is on the job, the Algorithmic Mind will run a check and discover that the ball costing $0.10 would yield an erroneous total of $1.20, conduct some mental arithmetic and arrive at the correct answer of $0.05.

Wason’s four card selection task provides another example of how the Tri-Process Model works. A research participant is presented four cards: K, A, 8, and 5. She is told that there is a letter or number on the opposite side of the card. The rule is that if a card has a vowel on its letter side, then it has an even number on its opposite side. The task is to decide which card or cards must be turned over to determine if the rule is true or false. The correct answer is A and 5, the only two cards that could show that the rule is false. However, the majority of research participants typically respond A and 8. So presumably they are engaging the Algorithmic Mind and making choices that would confirm the hypothesis. If the Reflective Mind is doing its job, it will catch this error and engage in simulations of all the possibilities and discover that there could be an even number on the other side of the K. The Reflective Mind might also be aware that a confirmation bias pervades most of our thinking and that we typically look for confirming, not disconfirming information. But it is disconfirmation information that refutes rules or hypothesis.

There is no way I can do justice to the Tri-Process Model of Cognition, but it is fleshing out the Two System View and addressing serious problems in intelligence tests. Perhaps Stanovich can develop a Rational Quotient (RQ) in addition to the IQ, or perhaps a more comprehensive intelligence test can be developed.

Stanovich, K.E. (2011). Rationality & the Reflective Mind. New York: The Oxford University Press..

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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