A Philosophical and Empirical Analysis of Subjects’ Modes of Inquiry in Wason’s 2–4–6 Task

  • Tukey D
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Abstract

Investigations of hypothesis-testing behaviour typically conclude that sub- jects’ methods are characterized by “confirmation bias.” However, these studies (a) relied exclusively upon Karl Popper’s philosophy of science, (b) only described subjects’ strategies via a falsificationist terminology, and (c) failed to determine subjects’ precise intentions in the task situations. Alterna- tive philosophies of science can be used to describe hitherto ignored aspects of rule discovery in Wason’s (1960) 246 task as well as reinterpret findings from previous research. Using Wason’s task, Experiment 1 adopted J. S. Mill’s inductive methodology in order to assess better the extent of elimina- tion in experimentation. While it was found that subjects did eliminate a large proportion of their hypotheses rather than merely confirm them, Mill’s eliminative methods applied to this task failed to account for the entirety of subjects’ behaviours. Experiment 2 examined subjects’ methods in more depth by asking subjects during the task either to: (1) describe their pro- cedures, (2) select from a list of methodology terms those that best character- ized their methods, and (3) state on each learning trial their preferred hypotheses and their subjective assessments that those hypotheses were correct. Although subjects were generally unable to describe their methods of inquiry, they were able to typify them via the methodology terms as if their methods were tacitly held skills. Contrary to presumptions of previous research, analyses indicated that subjects were not testing particular hypoth- eses on every trial but were often examining possible instances of the rule “at random” or “different from ones examined” to that trial. It is also suggested that subjects’ decisions to announce rules and their thematic lines of inquiry be given further consideration by researchers.

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Authors

  • David D. Tukey

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