50 years of the selection task

Marco Ragni, Ilir Kola, and Phil Johnson-Laird have just published a meta-analysis of 50 years of research into the selection task, a paradigm invented to test how reasoners select evidence to test hypotheses. Download the paper here, and read the abstract:

How individuals choose evidence to test hypotheses is a long-standing puzzle. According to an algorithmic theory that we present, it is based on dual processes: individuals’ intuitions depending on mental models of the hypothesis yield selections of evidence matching instances of the hypothesis, but their deliberations yield selections of potential counterexamples to the hypothesis. The results of 228 experiments using Wason’s selection task corroborated the theory’s predictions. Participants made dependent choices of items of evidence: the selections in 99 experiments were significantly more redundant (using Shannon’s measure) than those of 10,000 simulations of each experiment based on independent selections. Participants tended to select evidence corresponding to instances of hypotheses, or to its counterexamples, or to both. Given certain contents, instructions, or framings of the task, they were more likely to select potential counterexamples to the hypothesis. When participants received feedback about their selections in the “repeated” selection task, they switched from selections of instances of the hypothesis to selection of potential counterexamples. These results eliminated most of the 15 alternative theories of selecting evidence. In a meta-analysis, the model theory yielded a better fit of the results of 228 experiments than the one remaining theory based on reasoning rather than meaning. We discuss the implications of the model theory for hypothesis testing and for a well-known paradox of confirmation.