The unbearable burden of executive load on cognitive reflection: A validation of dual process theory

Eric D JohnsonDepartment of Basic Psychology and IR3C, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Elisabet TubauDepartment of Basic Psychology and IR3C, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Wim De NeysCNRS, LaPsyDE (CNRS Unit 8042), Paris Descartes University, Paris, France

Abstract

The Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) is increasingly employed to measure the tendency of an individual to override a prepotent but incorrect response and to subsequently engage in further reflection. This interplay between fast intuitive responding and resource demanding reflection has been offered as a paradigmatic example of dual process theories of thinking. Despite its growing popularity both for dual process theories and as an easily deployed measure of intelligence, the basic assumption that the CRT relies on executive resources remains generally circumstantial. The present study directly tested these dual process assumptions by presenting the standard bat-and-ball problem and a no-conflict control version while manipulating executive resources with a secondary load task. With the no-conflict control problems, accuracy was uniformly at ceiling in no load, low load, and high load conditions. In sharp contrast, in the standard conflict problems accuracy clearly declined with increasingly load. These findings validate dual process assumptions by providing direct causal evidence that correctly resolving the bat-and-ball problem draws on executive resources.

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