Abstract

Performance on heuristics and bias tasks has been shown to be susceptible to bias. In turn, susceptibility to bias varies as a function of individual differences in cognitive abilities (e.g., intelligence) and thinking styles (e.g., propensity for reflection). Using a classic task (i.e., lawyer–engineer problem), we conducted two experiments to examine the differential contributions of cognitive abilities versus thinking styles to performance. The results of Experiment 1 demonstrated that the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT)—a well-established measure of reflective thinking—predicted performance on conflict problems (where base rates and intuition point in opposite directions), whereas STM predicted performance on nonconflict problems. Experiment 2 conducted in the fMRI scanner replicated this behavioral dissociation and enabled us to probe their neural correlates. As predicted, conflict problems were associated with greater activation in the ACC—a key region for conflict detection—even in cases when participants responded stereotypically. In participants with higher CRT scores, conflict problems were associated with greater activation in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), and activation in PCC covaried in relation to CRT scores during conflict problems. Also, CRT scores predicted activation in PCC in conflict problems (over and above nonconflict problems). Our results suggest that individual differences in reflective thinking as measured by CRT are related to brain activation in PCC—a region involved in regulating attention between external and internal foci. We discuss the implications of our findings in terms of PCC's possible involvement in switching from intuitive to analytic mode of thought.

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