Wason selection task: what it is and what it shows about the reason

For millennia we humans have been considered analytical and rational animals, That one can hardly go wrong when one thinks in a reasoned and deep way to a problem that it is mathematical or logical.

While there may be cultural and educational differences, the truth is that it has come to be seen as something inherent and inherent in the human species, but to what extent is this true?

Peter C. Wason had fortune or misfortune trying to verify with a very simple task that it just wasn’t quite true. with a very simple task, called the Wason selection taskThis researcher has been able to observe how many of our seemingly analytical decisions are not.

Here we will explain what this task is, how it is solved and to what extent the context influences its correct resolution.

What does Wason’s breeding work consist of?

Imagine that on a table there are four cards. Each of them has a number on one side and a letter on the other. Let’s say at this point the letters are placed in such a way that they look like this:

ED 2 9

We are told that if on one side is the letter I, on the other is an even number, in this case 2. What two letters do we need to raise to confirm or disprove this hypothesis?

If your answer is the first and third letter, you are wrong. But don’t be discouraged, since only 10% of people who are given this task can answer correctly. The correct action was to turn the first and last of the cards, as these are the ones that let you know whether the above statement is true or not. This is so because when the letter I is raised, it is checked whether there is an even number on the other side. Otherwise, the statement would not be correct.

This example shown here is the task proposed by Peter Cathcart Wason in 1966 and is called the Wason selection task. It is a logical puzzle in which the reasoning skills of people are tested. Human thought follows a series of steps to reach conclusions. We are developing a series of approaches whose premises allow us to draw conclusions.

There are two types of reasoning: deductive and inductive. The first is that which occurs when all the initial information leads to the final conclusion, while in the case of inductive reasoning there is specific information which allows new information to be obtained, but in not absolute terms. In the case of Wason’s work, the type of reasoning applied is deductive, Also called conditional reasoning. Therefore, when solving the task, the following should be taken into account:

The letter D should not be raised because, whether or not it has an even number on the other side, does not refute the statement. That is, we were told that on the other side of the letter I there should be an even number, but we were never told that no other letter could have the same type of number.

The letter should not be raised with the 2 because if there is an E on the other side, it checks the statement, but it would be redundant since we would have already done this when raising the first letter. If there is no I on the other side, this also does not refute the claim, as it was not said that an even number must have yes or yes the letter E of the other side.

Yes, the last face must be raised with the 9 because in case an I is on the other side, this refutes the assertion, because it means that it is not true that in every letter with the letter E, there is an even number on the other side.

Mating bias

The fact that most people fail in the classic Wason task is due to mating bias (Corresponding bias). This bias causes people to flip letters that only confirm what is said in the statement, without thinking about those that might skew what is said there. This is a bit shocking, given that the task itself is fairly straightforward, but it is shown in a way that, in the event that the statement is abstract, drops it into the deception discussed above.

This is why Wason’s selection task is possibly one of the most studied experimental paradigms of all time, as it somewhat frustratingly challenges the way we humans reason. In fact, Wason himself, in an article published in 1968, claimed that the results of his experiment, which we remember were only 10% correct, were worrying.

It has been assumed throughout history that the human species is characterized by analytical reasoning, however, this task demonstrates that, in many cases the decisions that are made are taken in a completely irrational way.

Context changes everything: content effect

By presenting this test in a decontextualized way, that is, in terms of numbers and letters as is the case here, the research has shown very poor results. Most people answered incorrectly. However, if the information is presented with a bit of real life, the success percentages change.

This was proven in 1982 by Richard Griggs and James Cox, who rephrased Wason’s work as follows.

Participants were asked to imagine they were police officers and walking into a bar. Their job was to check which minors were consuming alcohol and therefore committing an offense. There were people who drank, people who didn’t drink alcohol, people under 18, and people over 18. Participants were asked which groups of people should be interviewed in order to do their job well and in the fastest way.

When faced with this case, around 75% answered correctly, saying that the only way to ensure that the above offense was not committed was to ask the group of minors and the group of people who consumed alcoholic beverages .

Another example that shows how the context makes it more efficient in responding to this task is the one proposed by Asensio, Martín-Be, García-Madruga and Recio in 1990, In which instead of alcoholic beverages, we were talking about vehicles. If a person drives a car, they must be over 18 years old. Presentation of the following four cases to the participants:

Car / Bike / person over 18 / person under 18

As in the previous case, it is clear here that the consignment note and that of the person under 18 must be returned. In that case, 90% answered correctly. Although the task in this case is the same, to confirm or falsify a statement, here having contextualized information is faster and it is clearer what needs to be done to answer correctly.

This is where we talk about the content effect, that is, the way we humans reason depends not only on the structure of the problem, but also on the content of the problem, whether it is contextualized or not and that we can therefore relate it to real life. problems.

The conclusions drawn from these new versions of Wason’s work were that when reasoning certain mistakes are made. This is due to the fact that more attention is paid to superficial features, Especially those who limit themselves to confirming the abstract hypothesis raised. The context and the information of the exercise affect the correct resolution of the exercise because comprehension is more important than the syntax of the statement.

Bibliographical references:

• Asensio, M .; Martín Be, J .; García-Madruga, JA and Recio, J. Cap Iroqués was Mohican: the influence of content on logical reasoning tasks. Studies in Psychology, 43-44, 1990, p. 35-60.
• Cox, JR and Griggs, RA Memory & Cognition (1982) 10: 496.
• Wason, PC; Shapiro, D. (1966). “Reasoning.” In Foss, Bk M. New Horizons in Psychology. Harmondsworth: penguin.
• Wason, PC (1971). “Natural and artificial experiment in a reasoning problem.” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 23: 63-71.
• Evans, J. St; Lynch, JS (1973). “Coincidence bias in the selection task. British Journal of Psychology ”. Match bias in the selection task. British Journal of Psychology 64: 391-397.