Psychopathy and the Wason Selection Task

by [anonymous] 1 min read22nd Nov 201012 comments


The Wason Selection Task is the somewhat famous experimental problem that requires attempting to falsify a hypothesis in order to get the correct answer. From the wikipedia article:

You are shown a set of four cards placed on a table, each of which has a number on one side and a colored patch on the other side. The visible faces of the cards show 3, 8, red and brown. Which card(s) should you turn over in order to test the truth of the proposition that if a card shows an even number on one face, then its opposite face is red?

Aside from an illustration of the rampancy of confirmation bias (only 10-20% of people get it right), the task is interesting for another reason: when framed in terms of social interactions, people's performance dramatically improves:

For example, if the rule used is "If you are drinking alcohol then you must be over 18", and the cards have an age on one side and beverage on the other, e.g., "17", "beer", "22", "coke", most people have no difficulty in selecting the correct cards ("17" and "beer").

However, apparently psychopaths perform nearly as badly on the "social contract" versions of this experiment as they do on the normal one. From the Economist:

For problems cast as social contracts or as questions of risk avoidance, by contrast, non-psychopaths got it right about 70% of the time. Psychopaths scored much less—around 40%—and those in the middle of the psychopathy scale scored midway between the two.

The original (gated) research appears to be here.