We know when we're being lazy thinkers: New study shows that human thinkers are conscious cognitive misers

(Medical Xpress)—Are we intellectually lazy? Yes we are, but we do know when we take the easy way out, according to a new study by Wim De Neys and colleagues, from the CNRS in France. Contrary to what psychologists believe, we are aware that we occasionally answer easier questions rather than the more complex ones we were asked, and we are also less confident about our answers when we do. The work is published online in Springer's journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

Research to date on human thinking suggests that our judgment is often biased because we are intellectually lazy, or so-called cognitive misers. We intuitively substitute hard questions for easier ones. What is less clear is whether or not we realize that we are doing this and notice our mistake.

Using an adaptation of the standard 'bat-and-ball' problem, the researchers explored this phenomenon. The typical 'bat-and-ball' problem is as follows: a bat and ball together cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? The intuitive answer that immediately springs to mind is 10 cents. However, the correct response is 5 cents.

The authors developed a control version of this problem, without the relative statement that triggers the substitution of a hard question for an easier one: A magazine and a banana together cost $2.90. The magazine costs $2. How much does the banana cost?

A total of 248 French university students were asked to solve each version of the problem. Once they had written down their answers, they were asked to indicate how confident they were that their answer was correct.

Only 21 percent of the participants managed to solve the standard problem (bat/ball) correctly. In contrast, the control version (magazine/banana) was solved correctly by 98 percent of the participants. In addition, those who gave the wrong answer to the standard problem were much less confident of their answer to the standard problem than they were of their answer to the control version. In other words, they were not completely oblivious to the questionable nature of their wrong answer. The key reason seems to be that reasoners tend to minimize cognitive effort and stick to intuitive processing.

The authors comment: "Although we might be cognitive misers, we are not happy fools who blindly answer erroneous questions without realizing it."

Indeed, although people appear to unconsciously substitute hard questions for easier ones, in reality, they are less foolish than might believe because they do know they are doing it.

More information: Psychonomic Bulletin & Review; DOI 10.3758/s13423-013-0384-5

Related Stories

Intuitive thinking may influence belief in God

date Sep 20, 2011

Intuition may lead people toward a belief in the divine and help explain why some people have more faith in God than others, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Cricket ball quality hit for six

date Nov 26, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- A study by a University of Adelaide sports engineer shows that not all cricket balls are consistently manufactured, causing quality issues and potentially having major implications for cricket ...

Recommended for you

Study reports rise in psychotic symptoms in Kenya

date 1 hour ago

A large-scale epidemiological study led by researchers from King's College London has found an increase in psychotic symptoms amongst adults in rural Kenya between 2004 and 2013. These findings could reflect ...

Grammar can influence the perception of motion events

date 3 hours ago

Different languages can have subtly different effects on the way we think and perceive, a phenomenon known as linguistic relativity. In a new paper in the journal Cognition, researcher Monique Flecken from t ...

False breast cancer alarm has negative impact on health

date 6 hours ago

The psychological strain of being told that you may have breast cancer may be severe, even if it turns out later to be a false alarm. This is the finding of new research from the University of Copenhagen, ...

Friendships start better with a smile

date 19 hours ago

If you want to strike up a new relationship, simply smile. It works because people are much more attuned to positive emotions when forming new bonds than they are to negative ones such as anger, contempt or ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.