You are on page 1of 5

# Why do people find Wason's selection task so difficult?

The low success rate in Wasons selection task has caused much controversy on the topic of human reasoning. A great depth of research has generated several theories as to why people find the selection task difficult. This essay will consider these different theories and evaluate how effective they are as a sufficient explanation. The Wason selection task is perceived as an abstract, indicative task (Evans, 2003). Participants are presented with four cards as shown in Figure 1. They are told if there is an A on a card, then there is a 3 on its other side. This can be expressed in the general format of if P, then Q. The task involves selecting only the cards which decide if the conditional rule is true or false.

Figure 1: Illustration of Wasons selection task, copied from Evans (2003) Surprisingly, majority of participants answered with the cards A and 3, but the correct ones are in fact A and 7(Evans, 2003). This tendency to merely verify the conditional rule is called confirmation bias However, participants should realise there is a possibility of A appearing on the side of another card other than 3. Equally, besides A, there is a possibility of 3 appearing on another side of a card. Thus, to solve Wasons selection task it is important to find a way to disconfirm the rule (Dawson, Gilovich and Regan, 2002). The question is why do people have this propensity towards confirmation bias? Could it be a result of misinterpretation? Nickerson (1996) found some ambiguity, claiming participants could interpret the Wason selection task in two different ways: 1) if the rule is true for only the four cards presented and 2) if the rule can be applied to a general set of cards. The first interpretation strongly encourages confirmation bias whereas the second motivates people to seek disconfirmation. In fact, Dawson, Gilovich and Regan (2002) did further research on how motivation may influence participants performance. They suggested participants would employ the correct reasoning strategy if prompted to reject the conditional rule. Much of their claim is based on the Can I/Must I model, insinuating people who wish to counter the rule (Must I?) will seek out scenarios which disprove it. Those who wish to accept the rule (Can I?) are subjected to confirmation bias. Although this link between motivation and confirmation bias is plausible, mainly implying scepticism enforces criticism of a claim, there is doubt on how it might apply to Wasons selection task. The motivation elicited from Dawson, Gilovich and Regans (2002) study was emotionally orientated; therefore, one could question how motivation can really influence the success rate when Wasons task is very much abstract and impassive. People cannot truly relate to such a task personally, or in real-life.

This perhaps explains why success rates increases when Wasons selection task is placed in a context. Griggs and Cox (1982, cited in Evans, 2003) recorded a success rate of 75% in their task, using cards as shown in Figure 2.

Beer

Coke

Age 22

Age 16