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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Sunday, October 16, 2022

A framework for understanding reasoning errors: From fake news to climate change and beyond

Pennycook, G. (2022, August 31).


Humans have the capacity, but perhaps not always the willingness, for great intelligence. From global warming to the spread of misinformation and beyond, our species is facing several major challenges that are the result of the limits of our own reasoning and decision-making. So, why are we so prone to errors during reasoning? In this chapter, I will outline a framework for understanding reasoning errors that is based on a three-stage dual-process model of analytic engagement (intuition, metacognition, and reason). The model has two key implications: 1) That a mere lack of deliberation and analytic thinking is a primary source of errors and 2) That when deliberation is activated, it generally reduces errors (via questioning intuitions and integrating new information) than increasing errors (via rationalization and motivated reasoning). In support of these claims, I review research showing the extensive predictive validity of measures that index individual differences in analytic cognitive style – even beyond explicit errors per se. In particular, analytic thinking is not only predictive of skepticism about a wide range of epistemically suspect beliefs (paranormal, conspiratorial, COVID-19 misperceptions, pseudoscience and alternative medicines) as well as decreased susceptibility to bullshit, fake news, and misinformation, but also important differences in people’s moral judgments and values as well as their religious beliefs (and disbeliefs). Furthermore, in some (but not all cases), there is evidence from experimental paradigms that support a causal role of analytic thinking in determining judgments, beliefs, and behaviors. The findings reviewed here provide some reason for optimism for the future: It may be possible to foster analytic thinking and therefore improve the quality of our decisions.

Evaluating the evidence: Does reason matter?

Thus far, I have prioritized explaining the various alternative frameworks. I will now turn to an in-depth review of some of the key relevant evidence that helps mediate between these accounts. I will organize this review around two key implications that emerge from the framework that I have proposed.

First, the primary difference between the three-stage model (and related dual-process models) and the social-intuitionist models (and related intuitionist models) is that the former argues that people should be able to overcome intuitive errors using deliberation whereas the latter argues that reason is generally infirm and therefore that intuitive errors will simply dominate. Thus, the reviewed research will investigate the apparent role of deliberation in driving people’s choices, beliefs, and behaviors.

Second, the primary difference between the three-stage model (and related dual-process models) and the identity-protective cognition model is that the latter argues that deliberation facilitates biased information processing whereas the former argues that deliberation generally facilitates accuracy. Thus, the reviewed research will also focus on whether deliberation is linked with inaccuracy in politically-charged or identity-relevant contexts.