Conflict monitoring in dual process theories of thinking

Cognition. 2008 Mar;106(3):1248-99. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2007.06.002. Epub 2007 Jul 12.


Popular dual process theories have characterized human thinking as an interplay between an intuitive-heuristic and demanding-analytic reasoning process. Although monitoring the output of the two systems for conflict is crucial to avoid decision making errors there are some widely different views on the efficiency of the process. Kahneman [Kahneman, D. (2002). Maps of bounded rationality: A perspective on intuitive judgement and choice. Nobel Prize Lecture. Retrieved January 11, 2006, from:] and Evans [Evans, J. St. B. T. (1984). Heuristic and analytic processing in reasoning. British Journal of Psychology, 75, 451-468], for example, claim that the monitoring of the heuristic system is typically quite lax whereas others such as Sloman [Sloman, S. A. (1996). The empirical case for two systems of reasoning. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 3-22] and Epstein [Epstein, S. (1994). Integration of the cognitive and psychodynamic unconscious. American Psychologists, 49, 709-724] claim it is flawless and people typically experience a struggle between what they "know" and "feel" in case of a conflict. The present study contrasted these views. Participants solved classic base rate neglect problems while thinking aloud. In these problems a stereotypical description cues a response that conflicts with the response based on the analytic base rate information. Verbal protocols showed no direct evidence for an explicitly experienced conflict. As Kahneman and Evans predicted, participants hardly ever mentioned the base rates and seemed to base their judgment exclusively on heuristic reasoning. However, more implicit measures of conflict detection such as participants' retrieval of the base rate information in an unannounced recall test, decision making latencies, and the tendency to review the base rates indicated that the base rates had been thoroughly processed. On control problems where base rates and description did not conflict this was not the case. Results suggest that whereas the popular characterization of conflict detection as an actively experienced struggle can be questioned there is nevertheless evidence for Sloman's and Epstein's basic claim about the flawless operation of the monitoring. Whenever the base rates and description disagree people will detect this conflict and consequently redirect attention towards a deeper processing of the base rates. Implications for the dual process framework and the rationality debate are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Thinking*