Who Is Rational? Studies of Individual Differences in Reasoning

Who Is Rational? Studies of Individual Differences in Reasoning

Who Is Rational? Studies of Individual Differences in Reasoning

Who Is Rational? Studies of Individual Differences in Reasoning

Synopsis

Integrating a decade-long program of empirical research with current cognitive theory, this book demonstrates that psychological research has profound implications for current debates about what it means to be rational. The author brings new evidence to bear on these issues by demonstrating that patterns of individual differences--largely ignored in disputes about human rationality--have strong implications for explanations of the gap between normative and descriptive models of human behavior. Separate chapters show how patterns of individual differences have implications for all of the major critiques of purported demonstrations of human irrationality in the heuristics and biases literature. In these critiques, it has been posited that experimenters have observed performance errors rather than systematically irrational responses; the tasks have required computational operations that exceed human cognitive capacity; experimenters have applied the wrong normative model to the task; and participants have misinterpreted the tasks.

In a comprehensive set of studies, Stanovich demonstrates that gaps between normative and descriptive models of performance on some tasks can be accounted for by positing these alternative explanations, but that not all discrepancies from normative models can be so explained. Individual differences in rational thought can in part be predicted by psychological dispositions that are interpreted as characteristic biases in people's intentional-level psychologies. Presenting the most comprehensive examination of individual differences in the heuristics and biases literature that has yet been published, experiments and theoretical insights in this volume contextualize the heuristics and biases literature exemplified in the work of various investigators.

Excerpt

In this book, I attempt to integrate a decade-long program of empirical research with current cognitive theory. My general goal is to demonstrate, using selected empirical examples, that patterns of individual differences across cognitive tasks can have important implications for current debates about what it means to be rational. Early work in the heuristics and biases tradition of Kahneman and Tversky seemed to indicate that it was quite easy to demonstrate human irrationality experimentally. However, critiques of this work by philosophers and other psychologists during the last two decades have called into question virtually all purported demonstrations of human irrationality--so much so that it has become common for psychologists and philosophers alike to defend models of near-perfect human rationality.

In this volume, I bring new evidence to bear on these issues by demonstrating that patterns of individual differences--largely ignored in disputes about human rationality--have strong implications for explanations for the gap between normative and descriptive models of human behavior. Such normative/descriptive gaps are an empirical reality. What is at issue--and what is extremely contentious--is the theoretical interpretation of such gaps. The tendency in the early heuristics and biases literature was to interpret these discrepancies as indicating systematic human irrationality. However, critics soon argued that the entire heuristics and biases literature was characterized by a proclivity to too quickly attribute irrationality to people, and that there were numerous alternative explanations for discrepancies between descriptive accounts of behavior and normative models.

Across several chapters in the volume, all of the major critiques of purported demonstrations of human irrationality in the heuristics and biases . . .

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