Cognitive Reflection

Hello everyone, let’s talk about cognitive reflection. Or if you’ve seen the click baity titles along the lines of “a Test that 70% of Harvard Students Failed”.

The past few Random Rambling topic has been quite heavy so I thought I want to do something a little lighter.  Well, I guess the topic itself is not that easy to consume, but it’s not something personal? I guess that’s the way to say that? Anyway, let’s jump into the topic at hand.

The Cognitive Reflection Test is a simple three question test. Here are the questions:

  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

It was designed by Shane Frederick in 2005 and suggests that humans have two general types of cognitive activity which he calls system 1 and system 2.

System 1 is an instinctive, effortless and quick system. It allows us to do simple mathematical calculations quickly. It is also the same thing that allows us to recognize faces and patterns. For example we know what follows 2, 4, 6 is 8. This is also the system that our brain uses by default. It is easy and comfortable but if unaware can end up with someone making some horrible decisions.

System 2 is the system which is slower, but more reflective and effortful. It’s the system that allows us to solve complex logical problems. This system is triggered when we doubt our first conclusions, therefore we start to reflect on our cognitive function. For example, when you sense something is wrong with your initial answer (like that doubt that’s creeping into your mind as you check your answers to those three questions again) or when something looks foreign and unfamiliar.

So if your answers to the questions were 10 cents, 100 minutes and 24 days, you’re engaging System 1 in solving the problems. (Which frankly is understandable. You’re reading a blog post, not an exam paper.)

But if your answers were 5 cents, 5 minutes and 47 days, you’ve engaged System 2! (And thank you for paying so much attention while reading this post :D)

So now that you know that, so what? Nothing much really. It’s just a fun fact to know and keep in mind when you’re thinking about stuff. For example, when you’re editing your blog post, you can switch fonts to help engage System 2 in order to better identify flaws and typos.

Here’s the full paper on cognitive reflection:

And here’s a video discussing it, if you’re not into academic papers:

And that’s all from me. Hope you have a nice day!



8 thoughts on “Cognitive Reflection

  1. Ooh I love this kind of stuff so much! My immediate thought was the obvious answers, but then a couple seconds later I started doubting myself and I tried to come up with other options. I didn’t end up getting the second answers because I’m terrible at maths and problem solving 😂 but it’s all so interesting!! Definitely going to check out that video you posted 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Glad you loved it! I think most of people uses System 1 most of the time and only switch gears to System 2 when the brain says “hey, you should pay more attention to this!” I was totally fooled by it the first time too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Really interesting! I turned out to be System 2…and that probably explains why I’m terrible at making decisions. I tend to re-think and over-think things, and then I usually end up doubting myself anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

    • System 2 also means you’re generally more attentive to things too! So that could mean that decision might be harder to make, but that can be caused by paying attention to more details to make better decisions.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s really interesting that someone has come up with some academic terms for something I think many people would just call “being bad at math.” :p I had serious flashbacks to middle school and high school looking at these problems. Isn’t the number 1 trick just going, “Oh, it’s one of those problems that looks deceptively easy. Time to break out the algebra so I get it right”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha. I think it’s not so much being bad at maths as just being careless and not paying attention to the question and figure out the tricky parts. “When in doubt, break out the algebra” sounds like a good way to handle it.

      Liked by 1 person

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