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Rationality and the Reflective Mind 2: Differentiating the Algorithmic Mind and the Reflective Mind


Stanovich is trying to extend the two system model and split system 2 thinking into algorithmic and reflective minds. Stanovich wants to create a three part model because of individual differences on certain cognitive tests. IQ tests are what roughly reflect the strength of the algorithmic mind. It’s the total processing power. But there are certain problems that people do much worse or better on, independent of IQ. Doing well on these problems relies more on thinking dispositions or tendencies than processing power. One must have a “reflective mind” to do well, not just a high IQ.

Some aspects of those with a more reflective thinking disposition: they demonstrate “actively open-minded thinking, need for cognition (the tendency to think a lot), consideration of future consequences, typical intellectual engagement, (less) need for closure, (less) superstitious thinking, and (less) dogmatism” (35). Does that sound familiar at all?

More characteristics: “the tendency to collect information before making up one’s mind, the tendency to seek various points of view before coming to a conclusion, the disposition to think extensively about a problem before responding, the tendency to calibrate the degree of strength of one’s opinion to the degree of evidence available, the tendency to think about future consequences before taking action, the tendency to explicitly weigh pluses and minuses of situations before making a decision, and the tendency to seek nuance and avoid absolutism” (36).

“Many different studies (the book provides an extensive list here- Nol) have indicated that measures of intelligence display only moderate to weak correlations (usually less than .30) with some thinking dispositions (e.g., actively open-minded thinking, need for cognition) and near zero correlations with others (e.g. conscientiousness, curiousity, diligence).

Intelligence tests (IQ) tend to measure the algorithmic mind, whereas critical thinking tests measure the reflective. Page 42 (second paragraph) summarizes some studies in which cognitive ability (algorithmic mind capabilities) are largely unrelated to critical thinking ability. In other words. Being really, really smart (high IQ) does not lead to being really, really reasonable. It takes a lot more. There is a positive correlation, but it is far from perfect. Intelligence may help people be critical thinkers, but it is only a small part (30%) of the battle.

What I’d like to know is how stable these thinking dispositions are. Are there certain areas (religion, politics, relationships) where people totally abandon their reflective mind? Are there areas where normally skilled critical thinkers totally fail to apply their skills? If someone scores super high on the critical thinking tests, might they still be totally irrational in some areas?

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