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More PsychNotes: Mental Abilities and Memory

Intuitive vs. Deliberate Thinking: Which is Better?
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

hen and chicks
If it takes 5 hens 5 days to lay 5 eggs, how long would it take 100 hens to lay 100 eggs? _____ days (adapted from Cognitive Reflection Test, Frederick, 2005). Answer below.

When answering this question, for our purposes, it is not whether you got the right answer, but how you went about answering the question. Intuitive thinkers will jump to an automatic response that is often incorrect whereas analytical thinkers will think through the math of the problem and more likely achieve the correct answer. Therefore, this test is not an intelligence test as some people describe but shows how you think through problems.

If you answered “100” you are most likely an intuitive thinker. If you correctly answered “5” you are most likely an analytical thinker. This doesn't mean intuitive thinkers are always wrong but it shows that if you rely only on your intuitive judgment you may be more likely to be wrong. According to a study by Mata and colleagues (2012), not only are deliberate thinkers more accurate with problems when an intuitive answer is available, but they are also aware of the intuitive answer and reject it when it is incorrect.

What does this mean? Which is better? According to Mata's research, deliberate thinkers are likely to use intuitive thinking as well but the intuitive thinkers do not analyze the problem but instead respond immediately with the intuited solution. Therefore, deliberate thinkers are using all possible mental resources and are more likely to be correct. Even when they respond quickly and may seem to be only using intuition they are still analyzing the problem.

What does this mean for you? If you are an intuitive thinker, you may also want to take a moment more to analyze the problem. Determine whether your intuited response is accurate. In many cases it may be, but you are more likely to be correct if you think it through.

Answer: 5 days. If you increase the number of hens, you automatically increase the number of eggs they lay without increasing the time necessary to lay the eggs. The time it takes to lay the eggs is always the same. Therefore, if 5 hens take 5 days to lay 5 eggs, 100 hens take 5 days to lay 100 eggs, just as 1 hen takes 5 days to lay 1 egg (Mata et al., 2012).

Frederick, S. (2005). Cognitive reflection and decision making. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19, 25–42. DOI:10.1257/089533005775196732

Mata, A., Ferreira, M.B., and Sherman, S.J. (2012). The Metacognitive Advantage of Deliberative Thinkers: A Dual-Process Perspective on Overconfidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 353–373. DOI: 10.1037/a0033640

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