Archive for April 22, 2011

Also a reasonable test for psychopaths

If you hang out in logic/math/education/psychology circles (as one so often does….) you’ve run into the Wason selection task – give people four cards, each with a destination on one side and a mode of transportation on the other and ask them to flip over all and only the cards necessary to ensure that the scenario described doesn’t involve someone violating the ruled “If you travel to Boston, you take a plane.” The general point is that people are bad (really, epically bad….) at propositional calculus and inference.
Bruce Schneier wrote recently on an interesting twist I hadn’t come across yet: people do quite well at this task when it is framed as catching cheaters. Specifically, they asked people to ensure the rule that “If a child ate dessert, they ate their vegetables” wasn’t broken, they knew exactly which cards to flip over. The results hold across age groups and nationalities. Says Schneier, “The results are the same: people are bad at the Wason selection task, except when the wording involves cheating.”
A debate ensues in the comments about whether the importance is really that it is about cheating, or if it is more about framing the question in a way that makes sense. That is (very informally….) if the travel form of the question seems illogical, people may convert the informal English language into a logical construct that better matches their understanding of the world.
Either way, it’s a compelling example that the context has a lot to do with one’s ability to understand and solve a logic problem.