Intuition versus Analysis: Strategy and Experience in Complex Everyday Problem Solving

By Pretz, Jean E. | Memory & Cognition, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Intuition versus Analysis: Strategy and Experience in Complex Everyday Problem Solving


Pretz, Jean E., Memory & Cognition


Research on dual processes in cognition has shown that explicit, analytical thought is more powerful and less vulnerable to heuristics and biases than is implicit, intuitive thought. However, several studies have shown that holistic, intuitive processes can outperform analysis, documenting the disruptive effects of hypothesis testing, think-aloud protocols, and analytical judgments. To examine the effects of intuitive versus analytical strategy and level of experience on problem solving, 1st- through 4th-year undergraduates solved problems dealing with college life. The results of two studies showed that the appropriateness of strategy depends on the problem solver's level of experience. Analysis was found to be an appropriate strategy for more experienced individuals, whereas novices scored best when they took a holistic, intuitive perspective. Similar effects of strategy were found when strategy instruction was manipulated and when participants were compared on the basis of strategy preference. The implications for research on problem solving, expertise, and dual-process models are discussed.

When it comes to solving an everyday, practical problem, should the problem be approached analytically or intuitively? When one leads a work team toward achieving a project deadline or makes a decision about where to attend college, will analysis or intuition lead to a better solution? Should one focus on the pros and cons of two alternatives, identify the relevant information, and solve the problem logically, or is it better to rely on an intuitive approach in which one trusts one's feelings and hunches about the situation? Much psychological research on problem solving has attempted to explain how individuals use logic and analysis to solve well-defined problems. However, many everyday, practical problems involve high stakes and are highly complex and ill-structured, lending themselves to a more intuitive approach. Practical problems also involve the application of intuitive, tacit knowledge, which has been gained through experience, rather than through explicit instruction (Sternberg et al., 2000). For practical problems, should we attempt analysis or, instead, rely on intuition? I argue that the answer to this question depends on an individual's level of experience in the domain and his or her preference for thinking intuitively or analytically.

Dual-Process Models

Recently, psychology has undergone a resurgence of interest in models of cognition highlighting dual processes (e.g., Epstein, 1991; Hogarth, 2001; Sloman, 1996). For example, Epstein's model describes the implicit/intuitive/ experiential mode as holistic, automatic, effortless, affective, slower and more resistant to change, context specific, and passive and preconscious, whereas the explicit/ analytical/rational mode is intentional, effortful, logical, more rapidly and easily changed, context general, and active and conscious. Dual processes have been described with respect to learning (Reber, 1989), memory (Roediger, 1990; Tulving & Schacter, 1990), and higher cognition, including judgment and decision making (Hogarth, 2001) and reasoning (Sloman, 1996). The present article contrasts dual processes in higher cognition, extending existing research into the domain of problem solving.

Traditionally, the problem-solving literature has focused on how individuals solve well-defined problems, using analytical processes such as means-end analysis and hypothesis testing, which rely on explicit metacognitive processes. Various studies of dual processes in higher cognition have emphasized the benefit of the analytical processing mode in overcoming the heuristic responses of the intuitive-processing mode (e.g., Epstein, Pacini, Denes-Raj, & Heier, 1996; Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). Intuitive processing has been often noted as causing errors in judgment, whereas rationality has been held up as an ideal. Intuition has been generally thought of by cognitive psychologists in the decision-making tradition as synonymous with heuristic (e. …

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