Are you smarter than a 6th grader?
This is one of the shortest psychology tests I have seen. It will take just a couple of minutes. Are you ready?
Write in the answers next to each question:
- 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?
- If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?
- 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?
✔ Correct. Wrong. The ball costs five cents. The bat costs a dollar more, $1.05. Together they cost $1.10.
✔ Correct. Wrong. Five minutes. Think about it: if one pregnant woman needs nine months to give birth to a single baby, how much time would one hundered pregnant women need to give birth to one hundered babies?
✔ Correct. Wrong. 47 days. Since every day the patch doubles in side, on 47th day the patch will be half as big as it would be on the 48th day, therefore it will cover half of the lake.
What's the meaning of this test?
This test is called Cognitive Reflection Test or CRT. Although "simple" in the sense that it's easy to understand and that it requires only elementary math and logic skills, solving it correctly requires you to resist the urge to go with the "intuitive" answer. For example, in the question number 1 the answer that first springs to mind is "ten cents".
Studies show that most educated people—those whose knowledge of mathematics is sufficient to solve any task of this type—fail to answer correctly all three questions. Detailed study of those with low CRT score indicates that these people are normally reluctant to check their intuitions: they are impulsive, impatient and want quick satisfaction. For example, when asked how much are they willing to pay for a quick delivery of a book, people who have had low score on the CRT were willing to pay twice as much than those with the high score.
The results of the CRT's have been linked with religiosity. One study claims that people give intuitive responses to CRT ("10 cents", "100 minutes" and "24 days") also believe more in God, even when controlling for education, income, political orientation, intelligence and other traits. Moreover, these people say they have become more religious than they were in childhood, which could mean that their way of thinking caused a change in attitudes.
It is also interesting that score on CRT may be influenced by relatively simple tricks. For example, if you print out the test in a way that it's more difficult to read, you will improve the score. Also, if you are asked to remember a situation when your thoughtfulness led you to a correct solution, or just to frown while solving the test, these mental cues can lead to better concentration and you will be less likely to go with the intuitive answers.
A lazy mind
These and similar studies paint a picture of the mind in which there are two different systems or two types of mental processes: one is quick and keen, but also rash, the other considered and deliberate, but lazy. System 1 automatically responds to stimuli, while System 2 gives a feeling of conscious, controlled thought. System 2 is difficult to persuade to "wake up" and try to solve some of these tasks, because they seem simple enough that they can be trusted to System 1. Supposedly, the tricks engage System 2 for another reason (for example, trying to decipher what is written) and then, when it is already "switched on", it just goes on to solve the problem properly.
System 1: spontaneous, intuitive problem solving is very useful aspect of our minds, without which we would be completely lost. The problem is that the world around us is becoming more complex, unintuitive, less and less like the environment for which our brains have adapted. When should we suspect that our intuition is not sufficient, and our "higher" mental capacities are not yet switched on? How can we resist the little voice inside our head that says: "I know this! You don't need to think about it"? The answers to these questions would certainly be very useful.
A final note: the scientific evidence that we have mentioned is still relatively fresh. A story about "two systems" is a more of a metaphor than an accurate description of the functioning of our brain. It is still too early for conclusions on which to base practice, but I think this area is interesting enough to talk about.
Adam L. Alter, Daniel M. Oppenheimer, Nicholas Epley:
Overcoming Intuition: Metacognitive Difficulty Activates Analytic Reasoning.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
2007, Vol. 136, No. 4, 569–576
Shane Frederick: Cognitive Reﬂection and Decision Making.
Journal of Economic Perspectives — Vol. 19, No. 4, Fall 2005 pages 25–42
Shenhav, Amitai; Rand, David G.; Greene, Joshua D.:
Divine intuition: Cognitive style influences belief in God.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Sep 19, 2011