Rethinking fast and slow based on a critique of reaction-time reverse inference

Nat Commun. 2015 Jul 2;6:7455. doi: 10.1038/ncomms8455.


Do people intuitively favour certain actions over others? In some dual-process research, reaction-time (RT) data have been used to infer that certain choices are intuitive. However, the use of behavioural or biological measures to infer mental function, popularly known as 'reverse inference', is problematic because it does not take into account other sources of variability in the data, such as discriminability of the choice options. Here we use two example data sets obtained from value-based choice experiments to demonstrate that, after controlling for discriminability (that is, strength-of-preference), there is no evidence that one type of choice is systematically faster than the other. Moreover, using specific variations of a prominent value-based choice experiment, we are able to predictably replicate, eliminate or reverse previously reported correlations between RT and selfishness. Thus, our findings shed crucial light on the use of RT in inferring mental processes and strongly caution against using RT differences as evidence favouring dual-process accounts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Delay Discounting / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intuition
  • Reaction Time / physiology*