Feeling we're biased: autonomic arousal and reasoning conflict

Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci. 2010 May;10(2):208-16. doi: 10.3758/CABN.10.2.208.


Human reasoning is often biased by intuitive beliefs. A key question is whether the bias results from a failure to detect that the intuitions conflict with logical considerations or from a failure to discard these tempting intuitions. The present study addressed this unresolved debate by focusing on conflict-related autonomic nervous system modulation during biased reasoning. Participants' skin conductance responses (SCRs) were monitored while they solved classic syllogisms in which a cued intuitive response could be inconsistent or consistent with the logical correct response. Results indicated that all reasoners showed increased SCRs when solving the inconsistent conflict problems. Experiment 2 validated that this autonomic arousal boost was absent when people were not engaged in an active reasoning task. The presence of a clear autonomic conflict response during reasoning lends credence to the idea that reasoners have a "gut" feeling that signals that their intuitive response is not logically warranted. Supplemental materials for this article may be downloaded from http://cabn.psychonomic-journals.org/content/supplemental.

MeSH terms

  • Arousal / physiology
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Galvanic Skin Response
  • Humans
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*
  • Thinking / physiology*