The Simple Logical Puzzle That Shows How Illogical People Are

Interesting puzzle to solve and see how logical your answer is. Write your answer and logic in reply comments. See article below puzzle ( f. sheikh)

In the 1960s, the English psychologist Peter Wason devised an experiment that would revolutionize his field. This clever puzzle, known as the “Wason selection task,” is oftenclaimed to be “the single most investigated experimental paradigm in the psychology of reasoning,” in the words of one textbook author.

Wason was a funny and clever man and an idiosyncratic thinker. His great insight was to treat reasoning as an enigma, something to scrutinize both critically and playfully. He told his colleagues, for instance, that he would familiarize himself with their work only after doing his own experiments, so as not to bias his own mind. He also said that before running experiments, researchers—quixotically—should never really know exactly why they were doing them. “The purpose of his experiments was not usually to test a hypothesis or theory, but rather to explore the nature of thinking,” a pair of his students wrote in Wason’s obituary. (He died in 2003.) “His aim was to reveal a surprising phenomenon—to show that thinking was not what psychologists including himself had taken it to be.”

The groundbreaking nature of Wason’s selection task may have been a result of his unconventional style. In one version of the task, one subject (always one—he spurned testing subjects in groups) is presented with four cards lying flat on a table, each with a single-digit number on one face and one of two colors on the other. Let’s imagine that you’re Wason’s subject. The first and second cards you see are a five and an eight; the third and fourth cards are blue and green, respectively. Wason liked to chat with his subjects, but he probably didn’t tell them that this logical puzzle was “deceptively easy,”which was how he described it in the paper he would later write, in 1968.

Wason tells you that if a card shows an even number on one face, then its opposite face is blue. Which cards must you turn over in order to test the truth of his proposition, without turning over any unnecessary cards? 

If you got it wrong, keep your spirits up: More than 90 percent of Wason’s subjects erred, too, and in quite a systematic way; the mistakes they made followed a pattern. “I feel very unhappy about my original choice,” a subject once told Wason, “but yes, I would still choose the same ones if I had to do the task again.” In that 1968 paper, titled “Reasoning about a Rule,” he wrote that these were “disquieting” results. The reigning assumption was that humans naturally reasoned analytically, but here was Wason’s subject admitting that, if given the choice, he’d be irrational again. It made Wason wonder: Is it the logical structure of the rules that make the puzzle difficult, or are people tripped up merely by the words with which the puzzle is expressed?

In 1982, a pair of psychologists from the University of Florida, Richard Griggs and James Cox, lent strong support to the idea that the puzzle is hard because of its wording. They reframed the Wason selection task, asking their subjects in one experiment to imagine themselves as police officers in a bar looking for underage drinkers. In this case, rather than the rule being abstract, as with the numbers and colors in the above example, the rule here is utterly social: If a person is drinking beer, then that person must be over 21. Seventy-five percent of subjects nailed the puzzle when it was presented in this way—revealing what researchers now call a “content effect.” How you dress up the task, in other words, determines its difficulty, despite the fact that it involves the same basic challenge: to see if a rule—if P then Q—has been violated. But why should words matter when it’s the same logical structure that’s always underlying them?

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