Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Apex of Human Cognition

Rational thinking and is not synonymous with rationalizing thought.  These phrases are often, mistakenly, used interchangeably. Rationalizing thought has an Aristotelian flavor, in that it involves putting forth reason for essentially any behavior or thought. Rationality is a weak concept, as it is applied in everyday dialogue. Most people are rational, if rational means an ability to provide some form of a reason for whatever. Cognitive science provides a different conceptualization of rationality; one that is consistent and is subject to assessment.  An array of the components underpinning rational thinking have been assessed. Recently a comprehensive measure of rationality was developed: Rationality Quotient.   

In discussing what makes humans unique as compared to other animals Stanovich asserts "what is really singular about humans: that they gain control of their lives in a way unique among lifeforms on Earth- by rational self determination (Stanovich, 2004, p.275)." Humans are capable of overriding automatic cognitive processes by using reflective thinking (category of Type 2 processing).
2 categories of rationality (excerpt from interview with Stanovich, West, Toplak Research Lab)
"Cognitive scientists recognize two types of rationality: instrumental and epistemic[As mentioned previously]. The simplest definition of instrumental rationality, the one that is strongly grounded in the practical world, is: Behaving in the world so that you get exactly what you most want, given the resources (physical andmental) available to you. Somewhat more technically, we could characterize instrumental rationality as the optimization of the individual’s goal fulfillment.
The other aspect of rationality studied by cognitive scientists is termed epistemic rationality. This aspect of rationality concerns how well beliefs map onto the actual structure of the world. The two types of rationality are related. In order to take actions that fulfill our goals, we need to base those actions on beliefs that are properly calibrated to the world.

Epistemic rationality is about what is true and instrumental rationality is about what to do. For our beliefs to be rational they must correspond to the way the world is—they must be true. For our actions to be rational they must be the best means toward our goals—they must be the best things to do."

 Rational thinking skills are important.  They are as important as intelligence.  Intelligence and rationality are often dissociated. Research demonstrates that intelligence is often a weak predictor of rationality.  This has been shown over a wide range of studies.  Intelligence is important, but there is more to good thinking than intelligence.  Intelligence reflects reasoning abilities across a wide variety of domains particularly novel ones.  In addition, intelligence reflects general declarative knowledge acquired through acculturated learning.  Rationality reflects appropriate goal setting, goal optimization, and holding evidence-based beliefs.

Chapter 2 from In Evidence We Trust focuses on rationality. Some key points from Chapter 2 (Hale, 2013):

"Society is replete with examples of intelligent people doing foolish things. This seems puzzling considering that intelligent people (as indicated by intelligence tests and their proxies-SAT, etc.) are generally thought of as rational, smart people. So, it may come as a surprise to find out that intelligent people are not necessarily rational people.

Many researchers suggest that a key characteristic of critical thinking is the ability to recognize one’s own fallibility when evaluating and generating evidence-recognizing the danger of weighing evidence according to one’s own beliefs. 

Kelley (1990) argues that 'the ability to step back from our train of thought . . . . is a virtue because it is the only way to check the results of our thinking, the only way to avoid jumping to conclusions, the only way to stay in touch with the facts'(p. 6).

Rationality is concerned with two key things: what is true and what to do (Manktelow, 2004).  In order for our beliefs.

Noncausal base-rate usage (Stanovich & West, 1998c, 1999, 2008)
Conjunction fallacy between subjects (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Framing between subjects (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Anchoring effect (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Evaluability less is more effect (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Proportion dominance effect (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Sunk cost effect (Stanovich & West, 2008; Parker & Fischhoff, 2005)
Risk/benefit t confounding (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Omission bias (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Perspective bias (Stanovich & West, 2008)
Certainty effect (Stanovich & West, 2008)
WTP/WTA difference (Stanovich & West, 2008)
My-side bias between and within S (Stanovich & West, 2007, 2008)
Newcomb’s problem (Stanovich & West, 1999; Toplak & Stanovich, 2002)"
[intelligence tests measure cognitive ability]

Often, people mistakenly make the assumption that Stanovich is implying the intelligence is not important. He asserts that Intelligence is an important cognitive ability associated with an array of outcomes. Rationality is also important and it measures different cognitive skills than what is measured on intelligence tests and their proxies. Rationality assesses cognitive ability and cognitive style. It is ideal to rate high in intelligence and rationality.

Learn more about In Evidence We Trust

Friday, July 28, 2017

Scientific Cognition: Implications for Learning Science

Scientific cognition (thinking) involves complex cognitive mechanisms.  Scientific Cognition involves much  more than: gen. scientific knowledge, procedural skills to conduct research, attaching "science says" to your statements, a science degree, perpetuating views of popularizers of science, identifying yourself as evidence based, asking for evidence, being skeptical, etc.  Scientific thinking involves an array of components and can be used in everyday out of the lab thinking as well as when evaluating research and examining science texts.

Deanna Kuhn asserts that the essence of scientific thinking is coordinating belief with evidence (2001).  At the very least scientific cognition involves philosophy of science, scientific methodology, quantitative reasoning, probabilistic reasoning and elements of logic. Scientific cognition requires specific cognitive abilities and cognitive style (thinking disposition).

In a recent study we investigated whether or not scientific cognition and scientific literacy (general scientific knowledge) scores were associated, and whether or not there were gender differences for total scores for each scale (Hale, Sloss, & Lawson, Paper Forthcoming).  The scientific literacy and scientific cognition assessment consisted of mostly questions  derived from measuring devices used in the past. The assessments were administered as part of an online survey. The participants were 202 university students. The study was approved by the university's Institutional Review Board. The results indicate a positive association between scientific literacy and scientific cognition, and no gender differences for total scores from the scales. Additional analyses indicate there was gender differences for some of the items. There was gender differences for one item from the scientific literacy assessment and for two items from the scientific cognition assessment. One of the important findings that was found in the study was that students confused science with pseudo- science. The overwhelming majority of students (79%) in the study report that astrology is scientific, or is at least partly scientific. Only twenty one percent of participants in the study answered the following question correctly: "Which of the following statements are true? A) Astrology is not at all scientific B) Astrology is partly scientific C) Astrology is a legitimate field of scientific study."  The correct answer is A. The astrology question is an item from the scientific literacy assessment.  Another important finding was, consistent with finding in past studies, students didn't do well on a covariation task.  Knowledge in research methodology should assist students in providing the correct answer for this item. The question most often answered incorrectly, from the scientific cognition assessment,  was a question involving identifying a relationship between treatment and effects, and making use of comparison groups. These skills are taught in research methods courses. The question was presented as "A new medical treatment was designed to treat a serious health problem. Using the information provided below decide whether the treatment was effective: 200 people were given the treatment and improved 75 people were given the treatment and did not improve 50 people were not given the treatment and improved 15 people were not given the treatment and did not improve A) Treatment was effective B) Treatment was not effective." The probability that the treatment is effective is (200/275) .727. The probability that the treatment is not effective is (50/65) .769.  The answer is B.  Approximately 53% of the students answered the question incorrectly.
The cognitive processes underpinning scientific cognition are important and can be extended to various conditions. To reiterate, scientific cognition is about much more that remembering scientific theories, laws and principles.  Scientific cognition is essentially analytical thinking that can be used, and should be used in a wide range of conditions. At the very least in an effort to develop better scientific cognition students should be educated in the areas of the philosophy of science, research methodology, quantitative reasoning (probabilistic reasoning) and logic. These components are involved with scientific thinking. Science educators and the media do a disservice when they promote science and its wide range of relevant concepts as "just" being able to remember scientifically derived information, or promoting science as if it is all about a just having a sense of "wonder."  Being able to recollect scientific facts, being skeptical and having a sense of wonder is important regarding science, but those qualities alone do not ensure high levels of scientific thinking. Myself and colleagues would like to see future research indicating a strong positive association between scientific cognition and scientific literacy.

References available upon request

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Don't Forget About The Stats: Quantitative Research

In the context of everyday language statistics (numbers, quantitative representations) are used to represent basketball player's free throw average, death rates, life spans and so on. In science statistics are tools used in describing, organizing, summarizing and analyzing data. Learning about stats will help you think in terms of probabilities, and allow you to gain a better understanding of research data. Statistics are not easy, but with some effort the basics can be learned by most people. Research methods and statistics are often taught together in college courses. Quantitative research uses stats, and these stats are essential in an effort to represent the data; stats are required for making sense of the research.          

Descriptive statistics are numerical measures that describe a population by providing information on the central tendency of the distribution, the width of distribution (dispersion, or variability), the shape of distribution (Jackson, 2009). Inferential statistics are procedures that allow us to make an inference from a sample to the population. That is, we are able to make generalizations about a population based on the information derived from the sample.

A key reason we need statistics is to be able to effectively interpret research. Without statistics it would be very difficult to analyze the collected data and make decisions based on the data. Statistics give us an overview of the data and allow us to make sense of what is going on. Without statistics, in many cases, it would be extremely difficult to find meaning in the data. Statistics provides us with a tool to make an educated inference.

Most scientific and technical journals contain some form of statistics. Without an understanding of statistics, the statistical information contained in the journal will be meaningless. An understanding of basic statistics will provide you with the fundamental skills necessary to read and evaluate most results sections. The ability to extract meaning from journal articles, and the ability to evaluate research from a statistical perspective are basic skills that will increase your knowledge and understanding of the article of interest. To reiterate, quantitative research uses stats, and to assess statistical validity, at least a basic understanding of stats is essential.

When researchers question a study’s statistical validity they are questioning issues relevant to how well the conclusions coincide with the results, represented as statistics. Interrogating statistical validity may include some of the following questions: If the study found a difference what is the probability that the conclusion was a false alarm?  If the study’s finding found no difference what is the probability that a real relationship went unnoticed?  What is the effect size?  Is the difference between groups statistically significant? Are the finding practically significant? What type of inferential stats were used to assess predictions? Could different statistical procedures have been used?

Gaining knowledge in the area of statistics will help you become a better-informed consumer. Statistics are difficult for many people. Students often cringe when they hear the word - statistics. Learning about statistics requires the same strategies as learning about other topics (strategies to improve learning and memory). Once an individual learns theoretical aspects and calculations used for basic statistical procedures the learning of more complex statistics become much easier. Everyone benefits from learning the basics of statistics. Statistics is not an easy subject compared to many other subjects, but the subject is much easier when one doesn't have negative expectations and realizes that with the appropriate cognitive effort and understanding of some rather basic mathematical principles the subject is learnable.  Being knowledgeable in the area of statistics will be beneficial across domains of scholarly and everyday life. 

Recently I asked Dr. Jonathan Gore (from Eastern Kentucky University) the following question- Why is a basic understanding of stats important for the public? He gave the following answer:
"My answer to why stats is important is that pretty much everything operates based on probability. Even some of the "hard" sciences are starting to realize that phenomena that used to only require a basic equation are now having to factor in probability to account for all that they observe."

If the objective is to thoroughly analyze the study, don't skip over the "Results" section when reading the paper. A key guideline for the Results section is a presentation of numerical findings that should be stated clearly, concisely and accurately. The methodology provides detailed information regarding processes used in the collection of data, while statistical procedures provide information on detecting meaningful signals among the noise: making sense of the data collected.    

 The book contains 76 questions and answers regarding scientific research methods and stats. It also contains practice problems involving statistical procedures. 
References are available upon request