Cognitive Continuum

cogcont3182333_NRP2011-524918.001The categories for this blog were taken from the table of contents of  the 1988 version of Rational Choice in an Uncertain World The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making edited by Reid Hastie and Robin Dawes. At this point, they need to be reorganized. For instance, the theory and models category, do I really know what a dual process model is? Is the cognitive continuum theory single process or dual process?  Frankly, Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 seem to constitute a weak dual process model concept. But does the difference between a dual process and a single process matter? Or is it a little like a multiple strategy or single strategy framework where even a unifying model can account for differences only by assuming different parameter values? And different parameter values constitute a structurally similar problem to strategy selection in a multiple strategies framework. (See post Automatic Decision Making) . Regardless, I am going to look at Ken Hammond’s cognitive continuum model from 1980. In followup posts, I anticipate working on dual process theories and maybe a nifty combination.

Hammond’s  cognitive continuum theory proposes that different forms of cognition (intuitive, analytical, common sense) are situated in relation to one another along a continuum that places intuitive processing at one end and analytical processing at the other. The properties of reasoning (e.g., cognitive control, awareness of cognitive ability, speed of cognitive activity) vary in degree, and the structural features of the tasks that invoke reasoning processes also vary along the continuum, according to the degree of cognitive activity they are predicted to induce.

According to Hammond’s 1980 paper: “The Integration of Research In Judgment and Decision Theory,” judgment and decision research occupies the middle range of the field of cognition.

Research on problem-solving and thinking provides a boundary on one side: studies of social perception provide a boundary on the other. These are uneasy boundaries in that it is often uncertain exactly where they lie, how permeable they are, and to what extent the neighbors should be interested in what is going on over the fence.

I obviously have been interested in what is going on over the fence in the course of my hundred plus posts.

Hammond’s  paper presents a theory of cognition within which each approach to that topic has a special, identifiable place and function, and thereby makes its special contribution without. replacing others.  He suggested that a unifying, rather than a replacement, theory is required for the field of judgment and decision research because it is so amorphous that a replacement theory could hardly succeed. The goal of the unifying theory was to make it possible for various approaches not only to be seen in relation to one another, but whenever possible, to become mutually supportive.

Hammond presented five premises which serve as the basis of the Cognitive Continuum Theory.

First, various modes, or forms, of cognition can be ordered in relation to one -another on a continuum that is marked by intuitive cognition at one pole and analytical cognition at the other, in contrast to the traditional dichotomy,  that has been posited between these modes of cognition.
Second, forms of cognition that lie on the continuum between intuition and analysis include elements of both intuition and analysis and are included under the term quasi-rationality. It is the most common form of cognition, it is known to the layman as “common sense,” and is related to Simon’s concept of “bounded rationality.”
Third, the properties of cognitive tasks permit them to be ordered on a continuum with regard to their capacity to induce intuition, quasi-rationality and analysis. Thus, an a priori relation can be specified between the properties of cognitive tasks and the modes of cognition induced by them.
Fourth,, cognitive activities move along the intuitive-analytical continuum over time; as they do so the relative contributions to cognition of intuitive and analytic components of quasi-rationality will change. Successful cognition inhibits movement, failure stimulates it.
Fifth, intuition, quasi-rationality and analysis are cognitive functions that have structural counterparts in the brain.

Hammond provides the following illustration of the persistent conflict between scientists who employed different modes of cognition with Freeman Dyson who provides a description of his dialogues with his colleague, Nobel prize-winner Richard Feynman:

The reason Dick’s physics was so hard for ordinary physicists to grasp was that he did not use equations. Since the time of Newton, the usual way of doing theoretical physics had been to begin by writing down some equations and then to work hard calculating solutions of the equations. This was the way Hans and Oppy and Julian Schwinger did physics. Dick just wrote down the solutions out of his head without ever writing down the equations. He had a physical picture of the way things happen, and the picture gave him the solutions directly, with a minimum of calculation. It was no wonder that people who had spent their lives solving equations were baffled by him. Their minds were analytical; his mind was pictorial.

The quasi-rational linear model of cognition is robust. There are, of course, limits to this robustness.  These limits are created by the characteristics or properties of the cognitive tasks with which the organism must cope. Hammond wrote that from a formal, mathematical-statistical point of view, the predictive validity of the linear model is reduced when the task involves (a) a small number (n =2) of highly valid cues that are related to the criterion in an interactive (i.e., contingent or synergistic) manner, or (b) a large number (n – 5+) of cues that have both positive and negative relationships to the criterion, (c) when there are substantial negative intra-ecological correlations among the cues, and most important, (d) when there is a substantial amount of uncertainty or unpredictability in the environment. In other words, quasi-rationality, and the linear model, fail progressively to provide the organism with good achievement as the cognitive task becomes more and more analytical in form.

Hammond suggested that we should anticipate finding that, all else being equal,
quasi-rational cognition (common sense) has a temporal priority in cognitive activity; that is, quasi-rational cognition appears prior to either intuition or analysis in judgment and decision making. Should a task or situation demand movement away from quasi-rationality towards either pole, cognition will return to quasi-rationality when either fails. Quasi-rational organisms can survive environmental change readily without changing their mode of information processing, that is, without learning,  because the robust character of their cognitive activity permits reasonable accuracy of judgment over a wide range of conditions.

Naturalistic (an ecology not directly arranged by man such as untouched forest, plain, or tundra) circumstances can be expected to induce pictorial, spatial, wholistic cognitive activity that is often not retraceable, whereas the cognitive tasks constructed by man can be expected to induce systematic, analytical cognition; that is, they induce cognitive activity in verbal, quantitative and logical form because of the efficiency and retraceability of this form of information processing. Thus, human beings have changed the array of cognitive tasks that
are now enoountered by human beings from tasks that are closer to the intuitive pole of the cognitive continuum to tasks that are closer to the analytical pole. Driving a car or flying an airplane, for example, demands more analytical, go no-go cognition than walking, or riding a horse.

The task circumstances that selected those early human beings who possessed the appropriate quasi-rational cognition that enabled them to win out in the competition in the savannah have changed, and continue to change to favor those persons whose analytical capacities are greater.

I love Hammond, but I don’t know how some of these ideas have held up. For instance, do intuition, quasi-rationality, and analysis have structural counterparts in the brain? I should know that, but I don’t. And is common sense mode the default? I could use some help on those questions. I will see what I can find.


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