Intuitive Inhibition Failure

Study Proposal #7: Intuitive Inhibition Failure (De Neys et al.) (C) | 30OCT13


Although we give intuitive, stereotype-based responses it seems that our brains also tend to work out a reasoned response as well, as evidenced by our conflict detection apparatus lighting up during these tasks. This suggests that our reliance on heuristics in inappropriate situations is more of a failure to inhibit an intuitive response. I claim that one way to “override the temptation of heuristic thinking” is to have respondents quickly sketch out their possible answers. Requiring the respondent to choose both answers, state why they are accurate and then decide will make the conflict salient and allow the respondent to override the heuristic. Since it seems the conflict and failure is occurring in the mind, it will be valuable to have respondents make both possibilities explicit outside of their mind in order to circumvent any problems with inhibition.


Participants will be randomly assigned to one of two conditions to answer the same incongruent question that was posed in the Smarter than we think study. No FMRI will be used.

One group of participants will be asked to answer the question immediately by describing why they chose it, then confirming their answer. Another group will be asked to describe the reasons behind both possible answers and then choose their final answer. Participants will be guided to state the possibilities in less than two sentences.

Experiment structure / predictions Engineers Lawyers* (Correct)
Describe both answers and choose one heuristic response 45% base rate response 55%
Describe answer heuristic response 55% base rate response 45%


    If answering the question in both possible ways helps to reduce inhibition failure, then a greater percentage of the participants in the “state and describe both answers”  condition will choose an answer based on the base rate. The result in the original test will be reversed.


These results would suggest that though it may be difficult to inhibit the intuitive response to a quick question, asking respondents to choose and describe both answers instead of one might allow them to consciously realize their bias and inhibit it. This would suggest that brainstorming and mind-mapping activities that allow people to synthesize a variety of contradictory possibilities by off-loading the possibilities from their mind might be effective. This may be a transferable as a tool and analog to improve student’s decision-making thinking processes about risky behaviour.

question, agree or disagree

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