Rewilding cognition : complex dynamics in open experimental systems

Ross, Wendy and Vallée-Tourangeau, Frédéric (2021) Rewilding cognition : complex dynamics in open experimental systems. Journal of Trial and Error, ISSN (online) 2667-1204 (Epub Ahead of Print)


Insight problems are sometimes designed to encourage an incorrect and misleading interpretation that veils a simple answer. The socks problem is one such problem: Given black socks and brown socks in a drawer mixed in a ratio of four to five, how many socks will you have to take out to make sure that you have a pair of the same color? The ratio information is misleading since, with only two colors, pulling three socks will guarantee a matching pair. Recently, offered a distinction between first- and second-order problem-solving: The former proceeds with and through a physical model of the problem, while the latter proceeds in the absence of such interactions with the world, in other words on the basis of mental processes alone. Vallée-Tourangeau and March also proposed a thought experiment, suggesting that the ratio information in the socks problem might be quickly abandoned in a first-order environment, that is, one where participants observe the results of drawing socks out of a bag rather than imagining themselves doing so. We tested this prediction by randomly allocating participants to a low- (second-order) or high- (first-order) interactivity condition. Marginally more participants announced the correct answer within a 5-minute period in the high than in the low condition, although the difference was not significant. Detailed analysis of the video recording revealed the challenges of operationalizing a second-order condition, as participants engaged in dialogical interactions with the experimenter. In addition, the manner in which the high-interactivity condition was designed appeared to encourage the physical reification of the misleading ratio, thus anchoring that information more firmly rather than defusing it through interactivity. We close the paper with some reflections on wide, or systemic, cognition in experimental research on creative problem-solving.

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