This post is based on a paper, “The Comprehensive Assessment of Rational Thinking” in the January-March 2016 issue of the “Educational Psychologist.” This paper constitutes the 2013 Thorndike Award Address by Stanovich. The award was for Stonovich’s work in the areas of reasoning and reading. Stanovich is the primary author of the Tri-Process Model of Cognition, which is an elaboration of Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition.
Stanovich has long been of the strong opinion that the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) does not adequately capture intelligence. He and his colleagues have been working for more than twenty years to compensate for the shortcomings of this quotient. This work has been most fruitful and Stanovich and his colleagues now have developed a Rational Quotient (RQ). They have developed a rational thinking assessment instrument called the Comprehensive Assessment of Rational Thinking (CART). This research is highly technical, but the goal of this post is to provide some flavor for the RQ and to what it captures that is missed by the IQ.
Rationality is a central concept in cognitive science. Two types of rationality are recognized: instrumental and epistemic. The simplest definition of instrumental rationality involves behaving in the world so that you get exactly what you most want, given the resources (physical and mental) available to you. More technically, instrumental rationality is the optimization of the individual’s goal fulfillment. Economists and cognitive scientist have refined the notion of optimization goal fulfillment into the technical notion of expected utility.
Epistemic rationality concerns how well beliefs map on to the actual structure of the world. In other words, how much do you really know, how accurate are your beliefs. Mahketelow has emphasized the practicality of both types of rationality by noting that they concern two critical things: what is true and what to do. “For our beliefs to be rational they must correspond to the way the world is—they must be true. Healthy Memory (HM) feels compelled to note here that our knowledge of the world should always be tentative and that this knowledge should consist of different probabilities of belief. We only have our internal models of the world to work with, and we should be continuing to update these models based on our experiences and what we learn. For our actions to be rational, they must be the best means to our goals—they must be the best things to do based on what we know
To be instrumentally rational, one must choose among options based on which option has the highest expected utility. Decision situations can be broken down into three components: possible actions, possible states of the world, and evaluations of the consequences of possible actions in each state of the world. HM must once again make the point that in many, if not most, of the cases, this can be computationally demanding and difficult to do. Perhaps in the near future there will be apps to help us do this. But in the meantime, the best we can do is to satisfice.
Rational thinking subsumes critical thinking. Critical thinking is important, but it is a type of thinking rather than a domain of knowledge. The best way to assess critical thinking is to assess how well it fosters rationality. “We value certain thinking dispositions because we think that they will at least aid in bringing belief in line with the world (epistemic rationality) and in achieving our goals (instrumental rationality). Critical thinking is important. Assessing critical thinking along the lines of epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality seem to be good routes for both assessing and developing critical thinking.
HM hopes this post has been helpful. Perhaps future posts will make it clearer. The key take away is that CART and the RQ has begun. It will mature in the future, with the hope that measures of mental ability will improve.
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