Cognitive reflection

The Cognitive Reflection Test is a short psychological task designed to measure a person’s tendency to override an initial “gut” response that is incorrect, and to engage in further reflection to find a correct answer. More succinctly, it attempts to measure how reflective participants in the study are in regards to their own mental state. It has been found to correlate highly with measures of intelligence, such as the Intelligence Quotient test. It also correlates highly with various measures of mental heuristics. The Cognitive Reflection Test was first described in 2005 by psychologist Shane Frederick.[1][2]

According to Frederick, there are two general types of cognitive activity. The first is executed quickly without reflection, the latter requires conscious thought and effort. These are labelled “system 1” and “system 2” respectively. The Cognitive Reflection Test consists of three questions that each have an obvious response that activates system 1, but which is incorrect. The correct response requires the activation of system 2. However, in order for system two to be activated, a person must note that their first answer is incorrect, which requires them to reflect upon their own cognition.[1]

The test has been found to correlate with many measures of economic thinking, such as temporal discounting, risk preference, and gambling preference.[1] It has also been found to correlate with measures of mental heuristics, such as the gambler’s fallacy, understanding of regression to the mean, the sunk cost fallacy, and others.[2]

The following questions are known as the Cognitive Reflection Test. They come from the paper Cognitive Reflection and Decision Making by Shane Frederick (2005).

Can you answer them correctly?

  1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? _____ cents.
  2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? _____ minutes.
  3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? _____ days

In a survey of 3,428 people, an astonishing 33 percent missed all three questions. Most people–83 percent–missed at least one of the questions.

Even very educated people made mistakes. Only 48 percent of MIT students sampled were able to answer all the questions correctly.

Published on Oct 8, 2015

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